If I have an abiding memory of spending time on campsites as a child it is one thing.
Sitting in the laundrette, the rain beating down outside, watching our trainers going round and round in the washing machine, having been muddied to unrecognisable proportions by a day yomping around a sodden Lake District.
I vividly remember one of those summers, when I was probably just nine or ten, seeing a double decker bus with an advert for Malta on the side. It seemed impossibly distant and exotic, but I would go there, one day, I vowed.
I would not spend my adult summers trudging under slate-grey skies towards mountains wreathed in dank cloud, that never seemed to get any closer. I would stay in a hotel!
On those childhood holidays we had a caravan, a thing so small we christened it The Boiled Egg, because it had the appearance and rough dimensions of one.
In The Boiled Egg and its associated awning and adjacent tents, we looked like a down-at-heel circus had arrived. There was me, my mum and dad, my auntie and uncle, and my cousins.
The Boiled Egg never went anywhere exciting, not to a child. The Lake District and Wales, mainly. One time, our carnivalesque convoy travelled to the land of the Red Dragon.
We took several wrong turns in those far-off, pre-satnav days, and made several circuits around Mold, so many that on the first we saw a wedding party going into a church and on the last saw them emerge.
Finally we got on the right road… or, right-ish. We ended up driving so far up a mountain that we could actually see climbers below us, pointing up in amazement at The Boiled Egg going where no caravan, even one of such tiny stature, had any right to be.
We ended up at a campsite in a place called Dinas Dinlle, which sounded like something from the Lord of the Rings, which I was devouring at the time, and felt like the end of the earth.
I only mention all this because you’d expect, from these experiences, that I would eschew any form of camping at the earliest opportunity and refuse to go on any holiday that did not involve four solid walls and a roof on which the ceaseless rain did not sound like a drum solo. And, for many years, that was the case.
But somehow, over the past decade, I seem to have not only found myself camping again – and proper camping, under canvas – but doing so not with a sense of fatalism, but with an enthusiasm my younger self would be appalled at.
The first camping trip of modern times was borne out of necessity. The children were young, aged perhaps eight and six, and our finances would not run to anything more extravagant. We booked a week in Wales, in a kill-or-cure way of thinking.
Our tent was all wrong, we had as much rain as you might expect in Wales (but also some absolutely scorching days) and there was no electricity. This was back in 2011, can you believe I didn’t charge my phone for a whole week?
But it was also bloody marvellous, mainly because the kids utterly enjoyed it so much. The campsite was a quirky affair, built by an old hippy and featuring odd little installations such as its own stone circle and a bank of seats procured at some point from an old airplane.
We were – and this is the crucial part my parents would have done well to understand when we used to tromp around the fells and dales of Cumbria – in striking distance of some gorgeous beaches.
It wasn’t by any means a perfect camping experience, but somehow over the course of those seven days, we got hooked.
The following year we got bolder. We decided to go to Cornwall, near to St Ives. We bought a bigger tent. In fact, we upgraded considerably. The campsite had a swimming pool. There was an electric hook-up. We were on some of the most stunning coastline in the world.
And that fortnight is when we fell very, very hard for camping.
We were pushed over the edge by glorious, almost Mediterranean weather, by the fact we were so close to one of the UK’s tourist hotspots without paying the eye-watering prices asked for hotels or holiday lets in high season, and by virtue of shelling out an arm and a leg for a huge tent that was almost, if not quite literally, a home from home.
But it was also a sense of freedom that had been lacking from my childhood holidays, or perhaps not so much lacking as less noticeable.
When you’re a kid you roam everywhere – or at least you did back then – and are rarely indoors in the summer months. Holidays merely transplanted that to another part of the country for a week or two.
But as an adult, especially one who has worked for decades, day in, day out in offices, suddenly waking up to the sound of birds singing and stepping out on to dewy grass, drinking coffee from plastic mugs under blue skies and feeling at one with, well, maybe not untrammelled nature but at least a carefully manicured campsite pitch… that is remarkably rejuvenating, much more so than sleeping in a hotel or apartment.
We resolved immediately to return to Cornwall the following year. After all, camping was so easy! You just packed up the car and went! Granted, the first year, in Wales, we’d merely loaded up the boot with our modest tent and meagre kit.
The first trip to Cornwall had involved the purchase of a roof box for the car, because our new tent was a lot bigger. Little did we know that once the camping bug had well and truly bitten, things were going to get a little more complicated.
If you ever feel short of shopping opportunities, get into camping. There’s a whole world of conspicuous consumption awaiting you in the outdoor and camping shops dotted up and down the country.
We acquired a table, chairs, outdoor furniture. Solar-powered fairy lights around the entrance to your tent are de rigueur, as are windbreaks to mark out your fiefdom.
A gas cooker, kettle, pots and pans. There are things you didn’t know you couldn’t in all conscience go on a camping holiday without. Who knew an inflatable sofa would prove so indispensable? Could we possibly conceive of a tent without fitted carpets these days?
We are not, it has to be said, campers who rough it. Nor would I necessarily put us into the “glamping” bracket, a term which I still reserve for people who camp in pre-erected yurts with private toilet blocks.
The acquisition of all this stuff necessitated the borrowing, for a couple of years, of a trailer from my uncle. Then we bought our own. We’ve just got rid of it and are this year going to hire a trailer twice the size, because last year we bought a new, bigger tent that inflates instead of using tent poles.
Seriously, once you try one of those you’ll never go back to staring at a series of metal tubes on the grass wondering which one goes with which.
Apart from writing pieces like this, I’m not very evangelical about camping. I know it isn’t for everyone. A lot of people don’t like the idea of having to go to a shower block in the middle of the night for a wee.
And I’m not going to pretend it’s perfect, all the time. Last year we put up our tent in a thunderstorm. There’s nothing worse than finding out your tent has got so old it leaks during a downpour and gets all your clothes wet.
There can be stress when you realise that on the day of leaving your holiday you’ve got about two hours to put away everything that took you a whole day to carefully pack for the journey down. Over the years we’ve had to leave behind an astonishingly frightening amount of stuff that just would not go back in the car.
The campsite we use is stuffed with facilities, and while it, and buying the kit, isn’t cheap, it’s still a fraction of the price we’d pay to holiday within bricks-and-mortar in St Ives at that time of year.
Camping holidays were a necessity when they started, but now they are a choice. In the years between my childhood holidays and our latest camping adventures, I have been to many places across the world, but I have never been to the dream-like Malta that was so inviting on the side of that bus when I was a kid.
Perhaps I will, one day, but certainly for now, I’m determined to carry on camping.
News sourced from the Independant