I recently spent a week camping with Bea and family in Norfolk. This was my first camping experience since I embarked on my Duke of Edinburgh’s Bronze Award thirteen years ago, and my first camping holiday in around two decades. Camping is enjoying a huge renaissance at the moment as a result of more and more people choosing to save money by holidaying in the UK. But having spent a week getting the full experience, (and yes, I did have the little natty tune from Carry on Camping roaming around my head all week as I marched to and from the toilet block, and yes, I did make adorning my tent with nautical bunting and fairy lights a priority). I’ve decided that there is more to camping, and its new-found popularity is about more than having a break as cheaply as possible.
So the downside to camping? Well… even if you have never set sock in a tent before, you’ll be able to imagine the obvious drawbacks. It’s a constant battle to keep insects out of your living space. By the end of the week I had made my peace with the odd spider who managed to get through my mesh inner tent door, and felt sorry for the worms found wriggling around under my ground sheet when I packed the tent up. So you could say that’s really a plus – insects in my space haven’t really bothered me since I returned to bricks and mortar!
There’s the rain. Oh boy, did it rain. And rain. And rain. Many people have nodded sagely when I told them about the torrential downpours on my canvas plot and informed me that camping is the worst holiday in the world when it rains, and the best when it shines. I have to agree with them. In the rain everything becomes twenty times harder, especially when camping with two dogs. Drying towels, going to the loo; simply climbing in and out of the tent without getting a wet door flap soaking your back is impossible. Mud gets everywhere. The dogs never smell pleasant. Campfires become impossible. Everyone becomes downcast, and if things get really bad, you find yourself becoming the overly chipper one who pipes up with terribly British things like, “Oh well! I’m sure I saw a break in the clouds not 48 hours ago! It’ll soon pick up!” There was one point when we were resignedly playing with the dogs in a field next to our tents, in an attempt just to wear them out as much as possible, when the sun broke through the rain clouds and a spontaneous, mass cheer rippled across then entire, three field campsite. I think that shows just how fed up people had been!
If you’re used to your creature comforts, walking to the shower and toilet block, showering in under three minutes and washing up in a shed or in the open may be the very reason why you’ve never considered camping. Personally, I found it quite fun toddling off to the loos before bed, dressed like a hobo and carrying my trusty torch and toothbrush. How often do we get to use a torch in everyday life after the age of twelve, really?
But, let’s switch to the positives, for they are numerous. And here’s the big one – the perspective-changer: you start to appreciate everything. Life’s simple pleasures become so much more, well, pleasurable. A hot shower with my favourite Lush products. Playing with Bea and Enzo – my dog-nephew – in an empty dewy field first thing in the morning and knowing I don’t have to clock watch to get to work on time. No make up for a whole week. Toasting marshmallows over a campfire, Bea wrapped up in a blanket at my side, and simply talking into the dark until late. Warm fleecy jumpers when it starts to go chilly. Feeling utterly snug in my little tent and protected from the outside world in a rain storm. Reading by torchlight about a lady who lives on a canal boat and feeling a certain kinship. Leaning back in my seat and gazing up at the stars, and noticing how I don’t really notice them at home. These are all priceless moments.
It’s funny, how life just sort of slows down. You come to realise that how you’re living for that camping holiday is really how you’d like to live at home. I don’t mean that I’d like to shun the bricks and mortar life for a tent, but not racing through the mundane tasks like washing up because I have a million other tasks to do is a simple pleasure in itself. I didn’t miss television or the internet at all. When my phone battery died it took me two days to get around to charging it in my brother’s tent, because that burning need to know what was going on in the world had left me, and I hadn’t imagined it ever could. I read the headlines on the front of the newspapers for sale in the local shops, instead of on a tablet screen. One night while getting changed for bed (a tricky task, dressing in a tent), I managed to stop my watch when I got it caught on my sleeve. The next morning I woke to daylight and birds tweeting, with a dead phone, no watch and absolutely no way of finding out what time it was. Was it 5am? 9am? I couldn’t remember the last time I had no inkling at all of what hour of the day it was. It was strangely freeing.
You might think that camping would be a far more stressful way to holiday than checking into a hotel or self-catering accommodation. I went with no expectations, feeling only that I wanted to get away from it all and enjoy my first summer holiday in nine years. But what I learned is that there is pleasure and satisfaction to be found in a slower pace of life. Time spent with Bea and my family is best done away from the distractions of technology and the dreaded clock. I stepped back and looked at my life with a fresh perspective, realising that I do far too much rushing around, ticking lists, checking my phone ten times an hour, getting stressed when things don’t happen fast enough. Since returning home I have got back into the habit of switching my phone off at 10pm, largely ignoring Facebook, and prioritising the long evening dog walk over chores and tv. After a week of feeling cold on an air bed I sink into my comfortable bed at home with a grateful smile. I’m reading more. I enjoy applying a little make up before work as an option, rather than a task that needs to be done to feel at my best.
So if you fancy forcing yourself to slow down and take life back to basics I’d highly recommend a short camping holiday. It’s certainly the perfect holiday for dogs! Or perhaps you’re a seasoned happy camper yourself and have some tips to share with me about how to improve my camping experience? Advice on staying warm at night would be gratefully received!