I never camped as a child. The closest we got to ‘camping’ was a static caravan in North Wales that my parents bought on the spur of the moment. I have no ‘The Tent, The Bucket and Me’ style anecdotes to have you weeping with laughter regarding formative camping trips. We lived in a northern suburb of Liverpool and it seemed like every Friday night during the summer, we would pack ourselves into the car with ham sandwiches and packs of mini cheddars, and squabble our way through the Mersey tunnel, to spend the weekend on a fairly dreary site with 12 other statics. The main attractions seemed to be an abandoned tractor and “the effluent tank”. My father would mow the grass in our little ‘garden’, and if we were really lucky we might get a trip to the swimming pool at Ruthin school.
I don’t think I really experienced camping ‘under canvas’ till university, and then initially in the rather surreal environment of Glastonbury festival. Fortunately it was a hot year (no mud bath for me), but my drug of choice was alcohol while my companion’s was more of the magic mushroom variety, and my bottle of vodka got stolen early on in the proceedings. While he had more than enough vegetable matter of one form or another available to keep him going, I was pretty skint, and cider makes you wee more often, so I spent the weekend fairly sober and rapidly going off the said companion. Saw some amazing bands but in terms of my ‘camping’ experience, the tent was a fairly irrelevant part of the weekend, particularly given the weather.
Then I met the Husband.
It was the end of June. He was based in York, but about to start a degree course in Wiltshire that September. Most of the rest of his unit were, to his annoyance, heading off to Bosnia without him. In order to give him something to do before uni, he was sent off to the Lakes to be an instructor on some kind of CCF camp thing. Most of our early relationship was based around long separations and snatched phone calls. After a few days of silence, he called from a phone box somewhere – would I care to join him? Oh! The excitement! Of course I would LOVE to join him.
It turned out that he had rather more to do with the cadets than was ever going to be fun for me, and my presence it appeared was (a) unauthorised and (b) noticed. I was dispatched to a separate campsite in a one man tent with nothing for company but the midges.
Our next excursion again involved a tent. The same summer, we borrowed his family’s ancient and rotting frame tent and headed off for a mystery tour that took in the Tower of London, Alton Towers and Keswick in the Lakes. We camped in a beer garden in Bedfordshire and various campsites up in Staffordshire and the Lakes, nicking marmite ‘mini pots’ (you know what I mean –the individual servings) from Tesco cafes, and playing pass the pigs to work out who would cook the next morning’s fry up. The tent was a pig to put up but we had such a laugh.
Obviously once he realised he wasn’t going to get rid of me that easily, he progressed to taking me ‘wild’ camping. We set off up various mountains – Scotland and Wales, with rucksacks – and camped when we needed to, in the hills. No longer in a frame tent, but back in his one man tent that I became acquainted with in the Lakes that first summer. By then, the draw of camping was obvious. OK, so it might be raining, and you might spend nights clinging on to the hillside on Tryfan as the wind howls round, threatening to whip you over the ridge and if you don’t die that way, then surely the black dogs of hell that were slavering round the tent, eyes burning like coals, baying for blood will...(there goes my vivid imagination again, sorry)
Where was I? Oh yes, to wake up in the middle of nowhere to have that first cup of tea staring on the beauty of the country side – knowing that no one else is there - it is amazing. I remember one morning up in the mountains behind Ben Nevis waking up and find that we were above the clouds. I will never forget that sense of well being that I got from that morning.
We have cycled toured in Northern France, camping – having upgraded to a slightly bigger tent, and later as a family, we have progressed through an enormous tent to a camper van. We also have a compact family tent which had its first outing last weekend, and proved itself admirably up to the task. I blogged about the demise of big tent last week if you are interested.
So why do I love it? I think the bottom line is that it’s all about getting rid of the trappings of day to day life and having space to breathe. By getting out and away, you are freed from the responsibilities of anything other than making sure the basic needs are met – food, shelter – do the kids have enough sun cream on? Obviously, you have to go back to reality, but for a short time, it feels like freedom - freedom to roam for the children, freedom to experience freedom. There is something totally intoxicating for me to be sitting by a campfire after a day outdoors, or in that first cup of tea stood outside in the early morning.
And yes, sometimes, it rains, and sometimes things go wrong, and lie ins are hard to come by, but there’s not much that can’t be solved with some hot chocolate and a piece of cake. We fly kites, we run around on beaches, we play Uno and Dobble for hours on end. We have fires and toast marshmallows. We can read chapters and chapters of stories to the kids if that’s what they want – or if they are busy damming a stream, and don’t want help, we might get to read more than a page of a book without falling asleep or get the opportunity to talk about something other than whether it’s recycling bin week or what the next week’s social engagements involve.
Now that we have the van, admittedly, camping has taken on a whole new side to it. Some would say that it’s not real camping, but I don’t agree. Yes, everything is there in one convenient vehicle, ready to go at the drop of a hat - there’s no packing the car up, and more importantly, when we get to the other end, no putting the tent up, and there’s no forgetting tent poles. It’s all there, ready for us. And it’s certainly not the wild camping we used to do, but we approach it, I think with the same attitude. And we will go back to wilder camping, undoubtedly. This summer, we have a ferry booked to France but nothing else. We will see where the road takes us and hopefully have some adventures on the way. Pink is still too small for walking long distances (or rather her ability to whinge while walking long distances outweighs the rest of us might gain from it), so for now that’s on hold, but the Husband and Blue are planning a night on the hills somewhere in a couple of weeks time and what a fantastic experience that will be.
Do you camp? Please say yes! and if you don't, make me laugh with your "Tent the Bucket and me Stories"!