Camping highlights and challenges

When an event or activity is planned I gain enjoyment from the anticipation, participation and reminiscence. These are just a few of the highlights from our recent camping trip that I will look back on with pleasure.

  • Sunny days, balmy nights, and the gentle lullaby of light rain on the tent as we tried to sleep.
  • A quiet and peaceful site, mercifully free of the large groups who chat and laugh into the night as others yearn for sleep.
  • Elder son wandering the dry and dusty field around our tent barefoot until his feet resembled those of a hobbit.
  • Cycling out to the neighbouring airfield to watch the model plane enthusiasts flying their crafts, then on through the forest to pick up the day’s groceries, buy cooling ice creams and watch the trains.
  • The warmth of the sun as the rays slowly darkened our skin tone as the week progressed.
  • Time to read books and magazines, practise circus skills, learn new card tricks.
  • Shopping for teddy bears in a nearby town then setting up elaborate photo shoots to post on Edward Gainsborough – Teddy Bear‘s Facebook page when we returned home.
  • Hot showers each morning, cold wine each evening.
  • Shared time together without the distractions of the plethora of electronic media that entertain us whilst at home.

Of course, not everything went to plan. These are just a few of the misadventures that we survived.

  • Our newly purchased mallet snapped as we tried to hammer tent pegs into the sun baked ground making putting up the tent securely a challenge.
  • Unable to keep anything cold through the warm and sunny days, our butter turned to liquid covering everything in our not so cool box with grease and forcing us to manage without this tasty topping for the remainder of the holiday.
  • A leaky air bed that partially deflated each night leaving the occupant tired and achy, although mercifully not grumpy.
  • A herd of New Forest ponies stampeding through the campsite as we ate our breakfast one morning – scary!
  • An attempt to brew a refreshing cup of tea became an exercise in quick reactions when our small stove caught fire (gas cylinder not correctly connected) within a couple of feet of our tent. This one could have been a disaster…

We cycled as a means of transport but had difficulty persuading younger son to walk in the beautiful countryside that surrounded our campsite and was a major reason for choosing this location. In an effort to spend a day that would please him we paid for entrance to the nearby National Motor Museum. He enjoyed the extensive collection of cars but became difficult once again when we insisted on exploring the abbey and house as well. His intransigence was all the harder to bear as normally we eschew expensive visitor attractions, making use instead of the beautiful locations that are available for free to those who will seek them out. We were not impressed by his attitude.

With the ups and downs of the trip, five days was probably just a little too long to be away. Too many requests were ignored by our teenagers, too many refusals to compromise and fit in with what others wanted from their time away.

There was, however, also a feeling of togetherness that is all but impossible to achieve at home where personal space is plentiful and distractions tailored to suit each individual. We took time out of our everyday lives to share a back to basics experience. As time passes we will remember the positives with pleasure and come to laugh ruefully at the negatives. My children are growing older; I will value all of the time that I can share with them before their inevitable moving away, that will be all too soon coming.


Family camping

We first went camping as a family around five years ago. The children had all experienced life under canvas on weekends away with their various Scout groups where they seemed to enjoy the adventure. My husband was keen to get away from home more frequently and saw camping as an affordable way to achieve this. I had camped with friends when I was in my late teens and early twenties but not since. I was unsure if I would be able to cope with the privations.

For our first foray we purchased a small, cheap tent and portable gas stove but little else. We made do with the basic sleeping bags and ground mats that we already owned and sat where we could to eat and chat. We had booked ourselves into a campsite recommended by friends for two nights but extended this to three when we discovered that we were enjoying ourselves. Despite the crowds, inadequate facilities and dodgy weather we had fun.

After that first trip we realised that we would need to purchase more equipment if we were to cope for longer than a few days but, buoyed by our positive experience, were willing to make the investment. Airbeds, folding chairs and a larger stove were ordered; camping review sites diligently searched; bookings at locations offering hot showers and the potential for good, local walks made.

Camping worked for us because we could live as a team. Despite the lack of comfort and a decent night’s sleep we all shared the daily tasks. Cooking and washing up became enjoyable activities as did the long walks and cycle rides that filled our days. We coped with the wind, rain and amenities shared with strangers with good humour. Eventually we ordered a larger tent, travelled further afield and camped for a week at a time. The discomfort was outweighed by the enjoyment and closeness achieved by the family unit.

Last summer the weather was persistently cold and wet in the weeks when we could have gone away so we opted to make a last minute booking at a cottage rather than use our tent. This holiday was not considered to be a success. It was decided that we should return to life under canvas this year if the weather made such a prospect at all desirable. When July was forecast to be warm and sunny, and it looked as if this might actually prove to be true, a booking at one of our favourite campsites was made.

The weather last week was the best we have ever camped in, but we discovered that the dynamic of the family has changed since our last comparable trip away. My youngest son is no longer willing to go on the long walks and cycle rides that the rest of us enjoy; in the last couple of years he has become grumpy and increasingly intransigent. Neither of my boys showed any interest in cooking so this was left to my husband as I am wary of cooking on a naked flame. The washing up was shared by all, but only with much persuasion.

The holiday was enjoyable but not in the way it used to be as we no longer worked as a team for the good of all. Neither my husband nor I felt able to relax as we could before. The boys did not seem interested in amusing themselves for long yet showed little enthusiasm for the activities that we suggested. A great deal of effort was required on our part before anything could be achieved.

I cannot help but wonder if this is the beginning of the end of family holidays; it would seem that we are all looking for something different in our time away from home. We have enough happy memories and experiences from the last week to have made it worthwhile, but I am unsure if we will do it again. We went on no long walks, and days out required expenditure that had not been necessary on previous excursions.

I am not surprised that my children are developing their own preferences and interests; it is only natural that they should do so. I can see that they gain more pleasure from time spent with friends and perhaps they will opt to go away with them more often than with us. Perhaps they will be as happy to simply stay at home.

We have packed away our tent and do not expect to use it again this year; I wonder when it will next be taken out of storage. It feels like the end of an era and this makes me rather sad. My husband and I are now discussing a possible night away without the boys. If what we enjoy doing with our free time does not mesh with their desires then perhaps it will be better to allow each to pursue adventure on their own.

This trip was the first that we had made without my daughter which, perhaps, made some difference. I will not write off the possibility of a future family camping trip just yet. If one is to be attempted though, the ground rules will have to be agreed by all before we venture forth.


A trip to the seaside

England is currently experiencing a heatwave. I love the sunshine and outdoor living so I am not going to complain about this relatively rare phenomena. I will concede though that trying to get anything done in temperatures that are hovering around the 30’C mark can be wearing.

With my daughter now safely arrived in Madagascar I have been checking the daily weather forecasts for the area that she is exploring and, if correct, then she is having to cope with daily temperatures about 10’C lower than back home. This is probably just as well given that she is required to walk a fair distance each day with a heavy pack on her back, and to work outside on projects the group will be challenged to complete. At least it does not appear to be raining and she has a good sleeping bag to keep her snug in her tent when the night time temperatures drop significantly. I do hope that she is enjoying her big adventure.

Having waved her off at the weekend I was whisked away to the seaside to take my mind off her departure. It was a very welcome and enjoyable distraction. For a couple of nights I was able to enjoy the comforts of a hotel on the beach with delicious food and a cooling, outdoor swimming pool as well as the sea. We had taken a room with a balcony that overlooked the water so morning coffee was sipped and pre dinner drinks imbibed whilst watching the yachts and expensive motor boats as they made their way in and out of the large, natural harbour. It felt wonderfully indulgent to spend time in such luxurious surroundings.

There is something about the sea and the tides that calms and relaxes my mood. The beaches were understandably busy on these hot days with young people swimming and diving off the rocks, fisherman casting their lines from the jetties, and the many birds gliding and diving in search of tasty tidbits. The surrounding roads were chaotic with traffic trying to move from one place to another along the coast, or in search of an unused parking space; I was glad that we could walk from the hotel to our desired destinations without having to move our car until it was time to head home.

Due to seasickness, I do not generally enjoy going out on boats. However, our proximity to an island that I was eager to visit and the relative calmness of the water in this weather persuaded me that we could risk the journey to spend a day enjoying the cooling shade of woodland. Thus we had a fabulous few hours wandering the paths between quiet glades in search of deer and the rare, red squirrels of Brownsea Island. We saw families of peacocks and flocks of chickens roaming free as well as the wildlife we had come to admire.

Most visitors to the island stay close to the visitors centre. We prefer to enjoy peace and quiet so chose to explore the many woodland paths as we circumnavigated the small island. In doing so we came across a small pond surrounded by trees on which interesting paint marks had been daubed. Intrigued by the apparently random nature of the strokes we moved around the pond and discovered that, with the right positioning and perspective, hearts appeared through the foliage. Created by painting a part of a heart shape on several trees at differing distances from the viewer these would only come together from one vantage point. We enjoyed the challenge of searching out the best place to view each of the four hearts.

Having enjoyed a few days of good food, a fabulous location and an air conditioned room in which to sleep, I returned home from our short break feeling rested and relaxed. I cannot put aside my natural concern for my daughter’s well being but, knowing how eager she was to take part in this expedition, I cannot wish her anywhere else.

My boys have now returned to school to complete the summer term before we head off camping next week. If this heatwave continues then it could be an interesting experience; our family camping trips are rarely taken in fine weather. We have coped with rain, wind and overnight frost in the past but never extreme heat. There will be no assisted air conditioning in our tent; neither will there be wifi. That could be the biggest challenge for my gadget addicted children.

In the meantime I have a few days of quiet reflection and preparation. With my daughter away I have the house to myself while my boys are at school; I must ensure that I make use of this time. Although she was only at home in the day with me for the few weeks around her recent exams, it quickly came to feel normal making this solitude more noticeable. How quickly we humans adapt to changing circumstances.

For today, the heat is building once again and I have much to do. Whatever the good or bad that comes our way, life goes on. I am grateful that, for now at least, the life I am living is very good.