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Culture

Carry on camping

29 Aug 2022 9 minute read
DSC_7177 by danskinner is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Sarah Morgan Jones

In a strip of land contoured out by ancient wall-hedges and more modern clusters of fast-growing willow, we are playing house under canvas and polyester.

A whisper’s distance from the sea (we can see it, but only just hear it), we are sharing the land at the end of a bumpy track with various people, all playing house in their own way, having travelled from all over to brave three days of unusual rain, the promise of some sunshine, and the occasional spectacular sunset.

There are tiny tents (mother and adult daughter spending time together reading books in comfortable silence) and further up the field is a circle of wagons, campervans in different flavours (an extended family, three generations, four spaniels, two collies – on Welsh, one border – a babe in arms).

Down the track, a Bongo with a googly eyes windscreen shade, pop top and awning tucked away in a dingly dell, barely visible on the route to the loos. Two chocolate-coloured curly-topped hounds grin and stare as I walk past and then bark suddenly just as I slip out of sight, making me jump…every time.

One night a spotless, hire-company-stickered land rover appears, occupied by an elegant couple, who seem to have missed the turning for the Serengeti back at Haverfordwest and found themselves forced to put up their roof tent, accessible only by a shiny ladder, just at the entrance to the field.

That’s cool, I thought as I padded back from the loos, my head torch illuminating the gobbits of toothpaste they had just launched at the brambles, but that distant lighthouse sweeping the bay beyond, would doubtless give the whole site silhouette sight of their nocturnals, even if they remained safe from hedgehogs.

Lower down the site, invisible unless you own thermal imaging goggles, are various enclosures, containing other campers, their twittering lives only just audible through the willow, and any contact at the communal facilities, entirely fleeting.

Those facilities strike exactly the right balance between essential and luxury. As well as some family sized loos and a couple of good-enough showers, there are two fridge freezers, a big sink for when those washing up homesick moments become too much, a washing machine for emergency use, and a charging locker for those of us who can’t quite disconnect entirely.

Hard work

Camping. An act of economy, an act of returning to nature, and sometimes an act of self-flagellation.

All through my life I have gone camping, in all these categories, in various levels of luxury or downright hard work.

The truth is, there is always an element of hard work, no matter the luxury element, because quite honestly, that much fresh air can be exhausting to a normally housebound screen dweller.

Now in my fifties, I have a couple of musts – must be able to stand upright to cook, must have a comfy chair, must have a comfy bed, must be able to have a fire.

Hard standings, lists of rules, dogs-on-leads-at-all-times, and bossy people a no-no.

Equally, noisy groups, drum and bass for breakfast and on-site entertainment are likely to shift me along the spectrum straight from Babs Windsor past Nuts in May’s Candice-Marie through to Tina from Sightseers in the time it takes to boil a kettle.

So this place, run by a couple of older, nerdy hippies who only come knocking to discuss the night sky – fire pits, help-yourself trugs of good fire wood, a welcome for dogs and the assumption that unpoliced grown-ups can sometimes be trusted – really fits the bill.

I could tell you where I am, but the first rule of the camping gem is that we don’t talk about the camping gem…

Bunting of course image by Sarah Morgan Jones

Eurocamp

As a child, the large family meant that foreign holidays were most definitely off the cards, far more common it was to travel vast distances to stay with relatives with a caravan in Berwick or pile up in a bickering mess in a chalet in Bude or undertake days out to Places of Historical Interest.

The first and only time I remember a family camping holiday, was the first and only time we had a ‘foreign’ family holiday.

It was after the three older brothers had finished school, in the summer holidays before they disappeared to university…and my parents packed me and my youngest brother into a Fiat 127 and drove us to the south of France, leaving them to their own devices* (*parties).

We arrived at a Eurocamp after a ridiculously long drive, with the first night spent in a motel in Lyon, and the second sleeping in the car next to a graveyard.

Ten-year-old me considered this an affront to my human rights, especially as we then drove into Montélimar for breakfast and I was confronted with warm milk straight from the bloody cow, and a hole in the ground affair behind the WC sign – I was distraught.

Unzipping the door to our allocated tent, my mum cooed with delight at the veritable home from home, my dad set off to inspect the facilities and my brother and I fought for the biggest bedroom, which I immediately conceded once I realised the biggest spider I had ever seen was already in residence.

Cool camping

The next few big camping adventures for me involved going to the first of a few trips to the Isles of Scilly with my friend and her family, along with everything we needed for two weeks in a field on a tiny island at the western tip of the country, where chippies were known to close at lunch time and the stock at the only shop-cum-post office on the island was very much at the whim of the tides.

We shared a tiny two-man ridge tent, one of several satellites to the Mother Ship, an enormous tent, in which we spent the stormy evenings playing Trivial Pursuits in teams with the aunties and cousins and de facto mums as the Atlantic weather crashed over the quarter-mile-wide island.

Subsequent visits saw boyfriends added to the mix, and then years later, my own young family. By then I had a bigger tent, set out like an army and navy stores with a tiny beach shelter outside which contained the knee-level kitchen.

As it happened that tent outlasted my marriage by a year or two but was then replaced by a too-cheap-to-be-true camper van and later with a new life partner.

We hit festivals and friend camps, and occasional romantic wintery weekends, reading books and drinking brandy coffees, in wet Gower fields before they were shoved out of spacial and financial reach by ‘Cool Camping’ features in the broadsheets.

Mini camper

Whole caboodle

When the camper van revealed itself as the money pit it truly was, we wandered through various tent-carnations, before graduating to a ‘bootjump’, a boot box for our minivan, which magically transformed from box to a table and chairs, and on into a double bed.

It served us well for a couple of holidays but had the drawback of having to be set back to normal for simply nipping to the shops or going on a day trip.

Once the dog got involved, things got a bit cramped, so after a while we sold it on, and I kept my eyes out for a suitable replacement.

This arrived in the form of a bell tent, which reared up for an absolute bargain price between lockdowns, and I enacted a dodgy looking boot-to-boot exchange with a bemasked woman from Gloucestershire in the car park at Aust services.

It was early in the year, after long restrictions had clipped our wings and we were ready for a proper outing. Not necessarily far but psychologically a world away, and not necessarily for long, as the days are felt minute by minute.

That first April night saw us battened down against a huge storm, wind, rain and thunder, and the whole caboodle was set up inside the vast structure.

It didn’t shift. Not a shudder, not a drip of a drop of a leak: it was bomb proof and when the sun came out the next day, we felt like we had climbed through a tear in the fabric of existence and survived unscathed.

Since then, there have been additions – a second hand event shelter, an ex-display blackout bedroom, a change of bed, the chairs have been upgraded to those zero gravity malarkies, fairy lights and bunting of course…and a bucket for nocturnal emergencies.

The bucket has always held up despite my largesse, but I am always afraid it will crumple, or worse, vacuum fit itself to my arse and I will arrive at A&E with an acute case of bucket-bum.

Nature’s TV image by Sarah Morgan Jones

Restorative

So here we are, old hands on the fields, noddlingly trusted to pay up at some point and on binocular sharing terms with the lady of the house.

I wake up with the sun and the dog, cook up some coffee on the stove, enjoy the luxury of time to read; the ever-present radio silenced in favour of boisterous birds and the low surge of the sea in the distance.

Later, on a trip to the nearby bay to catch the high tide, crisp and clear, I float, limbs akimbo, watching swifts playing and diving in the skies above me.

This perfect moment is comically interrupted by the dog running straight ‘across’ the water, presumably to rescue me, only to be thoroughly shocked that it was deeper than he thought.

As the night falls, the Milky Way rolls out across the darkening sky, the swifts swoop and the bats are curious. The dog goes to bed in disgust as we draw every last breath of fresh air from the day, in front of nature’s TV.

It’s exhausting, but the slow-down, the low-down, the stripping-life-down to the basic elements is restorative.

Books, radio, chairs, bed, cooking, fire, fresh air.

Perfect.


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Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
1 month ago

That read like a real camper’s odyssey and sent me tramping down memory lane. For me, family camping was never an option, thankfully. My recollections jump from camping weekends up and down the Mawddach and on Harlech land between the lakes above Llandecwyn as a teenager. It was near the top lake that I first met the wild goats, they appeared out of the mist like the Devil’s outriders and gave me quite a fright, believe me. Then finally a week on a new age traveller’s camp in Ashridge Woods near Berkhamsted with several early Glasto’s in between…since then 40… Read more »

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