Grown up camping – is it even a thing?

Camping – A Perfect Holiday?

Don’t you just love the idea of camping? Out in a field, surrounded by the peace and serenity of the countryside, at one with nature, fresh clean air in your lungs, being woken by the twittering birdsong, watching beautiful sunsets while you sit around the campfire, toasting marshmallows, drinking cider and relaxing. 

It’s no surprise then that campsite bookings were up by 500% in some places this summer, with families spending nearly £6million on camping equipment, adding to an industry now worth £9.3billion in the UK alone. 

These figures have obviously been boosted by the recent pandemic, with holidaying in the Uk being glamorously rebranded as a ‘staycation’, but those aren’t numbers to be sniffed at. So last year, on a whim, we bought a tent. 

We Bought a Tent

By a tent, I mean we bought a detached bungalow made from canvas and steel poles. Not the kind of tent that you fall into after a late night in Glastonbury that has about enough room in it for a half drunk bottle of rum, one shoe and a packet of rizlas. This was the kind of tent that in any other situ would need planning permission. It was half price, it looked great set up in the shop and the kids loved it, so we thought, what the heck? 

Our canvas bungalow
Our canvas bungalow

This behemoth of a tent stayed safely stashed in the shed until this summer when we planned to use it.

Now my wife and I aren’t complete camping newbs. Far from it. We went to Glastonbury many times in the early 2000s, back when we were still fun and our joints worked properly. 

Our Camping History

We started out with a single skin, playhouse type tent that was barely waterproof. It had no storage and just enough room to put two of those thin, foam camping mats in that made you almost convince yourself that you weren’t just sleeping on the floor in a field. A assumption your bruised hips always informed you was incorrect the next morning. 

Festival camping
Come on, our tent is definitely this way.
Photo by John Such on Unsplash

Our next tent was slightly bigger, but still one we had to crawl into, which was never a problem at 4am at a festival. This one also had lights – woooo. I know, flashy, right? Luckily, the lights weren’t. It was a double- skinned job (no festival pun intended) that fooled us into thinking we’d be safe from the rain. It mostly was, but not when the cramped sleeping position made you stick an elbow against the sides, completely negating the waterproofing. But again, at a festival, there’s not a lot you really care about, and the quality of your tent is the least of your worries. We were more worried about getting halfway across the site in 20 minutes, having a wee and grabbing something to eat in time to see Arcade Fire.

Then we grew up. A bit.

My wife and I had a brilliant party in 2010. It was full of fun and frolics, with many friends coming from far and wide. There was much dancing and frivolity, laughter and song, preceded by our wedding. For our honeymoon we were like, yeah – we’re still cool, we’re still with it. Just ‘cos we’re married, doesn’t mean we’re old and past it. So, for our honeymoon we decided to go to Belgium and spend some time in Bruges and Antwerp, very cultured, with a festival sandwiched in between. 

We splashed out and bought a decent tent. It was an Outwell. It was a great tent, much bigger; I could stand up in it! It even had a little flap for an electric hookup but we weren’t at that stage quite yet. More of that later. 

So we left Bruges and headed to Pukkelpop with our new tent, a shed load of Pot Noodles and joy in our hearts. We even took a stove and a kettle. I mean – we were suddenly on the precipice of being serious campers. (I can hear all you seasoned campers laughing right now, thinking, oh, how naive).

The first thing I realised is that when you start to get serious about your tent, they come in much bigger packages. I was used to checking my pockets when we got to a festival as I knew I’d put the tent in there somewhere. Not now. We dragged this wet sheep of a tent across a flyover to get to the festival site, as well as our bags and the stove and the kettle and the water bottle and the food. We needed a couple of hours lie down after we’d set up just to recover. 

So, like I said – we’ve camped. But now we have kids and a bungalow tent, it’s a whole different kettle of Pot Noodle.

Getting Tooled Up

I soon realised that the tent was just the start of it all. Over the ensuing months, our collection of camping paraphernalia grew exponentially. There was the electric hookup to get, which is proper grown up camping. There’s nothing like a tea or coffee to take the edge off the morning after a crap night’s sleep, and there’s the kids’ breakfasts to consider. We knew there was a cafe and bakery on site, but just as I predicted, Jeanette could do a full weekly shop at Lidl for the same price as a coffee and a pain au chocolat.

Electicity is a must for anyone with a family, something we’d never considered on our festival trips. With that, you can use a toaster, kettle and an electric coolbox – proper home ‘comforts’. I am loathe to call it a fridge as all it seemed to do was stave off the milk turning sour temporarily. The cheese was funkier than James Brown after a day or two so don’t be taking any salmon mousse with you and saving if for the last night.

And then there’s the lights, a necessity and lastly, a heater. Don’t kid yourself that you’ll get all romantic and consider dragging your sleeping bags to all sleep out under the stars during the UK summertime (unless you get away during the two day heatwave we get each year). If you do, there’ll be police everywhere the next morning as they work out what happened to the fozen family, still stiff in their sleeping bags.

I also bought a new stove, as the last one had survived since our honeymoon 11 years ago, so technically we had two rings – just in case Raymond Blanc popped by. In reality, it meant that with some serious effort, we could cook beans and egg. Sounds complicated but I’ll post the recipe at some point.

The last big consideration was our sleeping arrangements. We had done the foam mats but my back emailed me to say that if I didn’t upgrade, it would throw in the towel completely. We had tried the airbed but they have a tendance to go down. There’s nothing magical about blowing up an airbed in the middle of the night after waking up on the floor. We eventually plumped for two 10cm self inflating mattresses – they were excellent. They don’t pack down very small but I can honestly say that without them, by day 3 I would have gone on a killing spree armed only with a tin opener and a tent peg. They aren’t cheap, and if you want the pinnacle of luxury, they do go up to 15cm but they are very, very, comfortable.

So, with enough stuff to set up base camp at the foot of Everest, we were ready. Our first foray into grown up camping. It was going to be great (I kept telling myself).

We booked a lovely site. It came highly recommended. It is set in the rolling landscape of South Wales, with excellent facilities and a 5* reputation. We had originally booked 6 days, but we endured 5 days before we cut our losses, packed up and came home. We did have a nice time and the location was excellent, but you will need read the next blog for my ‘8 reasons why camping isn’t for everyone‘.

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