“What was the best thing about your camping holiday?” I asked my 3-year-old when we came back from a week under canvas on a farm in Devon. “Archie,” he said. So, despite the fact that we had spent the week going on steam trains, visiting interactive farms, spending a day at a railway centre, and marvelling at the biggest model railway in the country (are you sensing a theme here?) the best thing about our holiday for my son Arron was the little friend he made at our campsite.
I’ve always loved camping – it must come from all those years of being in the Guides. And luckily my dear husband feels the same (hopefully not for the same reason, or we need to have a little talk). Arron is definitely an outdoors kind of boy so we were confident that he’d take camping and living in a tent in his stride.
How right we were. From helping to put the tent up (who knew rubber mallets and 3-year-olds could be a useful combination?), to washing up in the communal kitchen, Arron has taken to the outdoors life like a duck to water.
Holidays in hotels are all very well, but can be restricting with a pre-schooler. Camping gives them a real sense of freedom. I also find it far more relaxing as a parent. They can be running round, playing with a ball, or even hunting for tigers as Arron and Archie did while we cooked dinner or (preferably) relaxed with a glass of wine and the paper.
We’re die-hard traditionalists when it comes to camping. Pre-children, we took a two-man tent, a disposable barbecue and beer. But I must admit that I was getting gazebo envy by the end of our last, somewhat damp, trip away. I gazed longingly at a nearby pitch, where a family had the luxury of a camp kitchen and a gazebo. A gazebo – I ask you? How we laughed when we first saw it… until it rained… and then rained again. A gazebo, I soon realised, gives you lots of space to sit outside, cook in the dry, and eat without being drenched, or without sitting holed up in your tent.
Being die-hard camping traditionalists we also don’t ‘do’ electricity when we’re away. Despite the fact that most sites now have serviced pitches for tents as well as caravans, we have resisted. But I admit I can see the appeal of being able to charge up phones, laptops, or even a portable DVD player to occupy the kids on a rainy evening. At the end of the day it’s down to personal choice, but I personally like the fact that we can’t switch on the TV and actually have to talk to each other.
Mind you, we did upgrade ourselves from that ancient two-man tent. We now have a three-room tent – invaluable if you put the kids to bed early and it’s too wet to sit outside. When it comes to bedtime our favoured method is to let Arron run around until he’s so tired he just flops into bed and starts snoring. Obviously you need to be considerate of neighbouring campers and keep noise down after a certain time, and if it’s very cold and wet this isn’t so much of an option. Speaking of which, a word from the wise: when you’re sitting outside, always put on an extra layer before you get cold. Even on a nice evening it can get chilly, and once you’ve got shivery you’ll never get warm again!
Camping isn’t for everyone, I know, but on a warm summer’s evening, when the children are playing with their new-found friends, and you’re sitting back and relaxing, looking forward to something hot off the barbie and something cool in a glass, enjoying peace and quiet and beautiful views, there’s no other place I’d rather be. And Arron? He can’t wait for our next camping trip – I just hope he’s not expecting Archie to be there!
If the fun of a camping trip is for you, check out our round-up of 10 of the best family-friendly campsites and our list of the best family tents.