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The Joys of Camping with Children

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The content for this blog came out of another argument we had in the office about whether camping or caravanning is better. Steve and Pete think caravanning is better and laugh at me for preferring a tent. But before I go off on another of my rants about "towing all that stuff behind you", I will move on to the point, which is the wonderful introduction to outdoor life you can give your children by taking them camping.

There can't be many of us who did not nag our parents to allow us to pitch a tent in the garden when we were little. maybe many of you can also remember the joy of being taken "proper camping" for the first time. In my family's case, this involved driving from the Midlands to West Wales with my father deciding that this was best done overnight to avoid the traffic. This was in the days when you could still put children almost anywhere and I can remember travelling half asleep with my brother and sisters squeezed in all ways around me.

The big thrills were to come. Dawn on the road down towards Aberystwyth, a road that seemed to wind in endless and fascinating loops that were enormously exotic to someone from the flatlands of the near Coventry; the unending nature of the journey - minutes seemed to drag on forever; shivering over a bacon sandwich that my father insisted on cooking by the roadside in the morning; and the thrill of our first glimpse of the sea at the end of the valley.

In his excitement to avoid the traffic, my Dad had not reckoned with the fact that this meant we arrived at the campsite too early, before the existing campers had had a chance to get out and away, which meant, joy of joys, an early visit to the beach nearby until we could actually go back and get a pitch.

Now comes the bit I struggle to explain to Steve and Pete - the joy, as a child, of sharing your first tent.

For whatever reason, my Dad had decided my brother and I would share a tent. This was the days of ridge poles, separate groundsheets and more guy ropes than you could shake a stick at. We were even more excited because we were told that the tent had belonged to my grandfather and that he had travelled up to the Khyber Pass in the months before India became an independent nation. As it turned out, it was a good job that the fortnight was sunny and dry because it later turned out that it's proofing limited, so I wonder now whether any of that part of the story we were told was true.

And there we were, the middle of the afternoon, my brother and I, experiencing for the first time that slightly sickly sweet smell that comes from the inside of a tent, the cocoon of being wrapped in a sleeping bag, the almost greenhouse-like effect that makes it impossible to stay in once the sun really comes up and the wonderful excitement of a secret world that you can build round yourself as a child.

If you are reading this and have never taken your child camping, then they are missing out on one of the greatest treats you can have. As a child, you don't care about the "right equipment", you can sleep on anything. All the things that seem to be hardships are just adventures. As you camp a little more, so you begin to learn real organisational skills (yes I really have been camping with friends as a teenager and 5 of us had a single tin of beans and no tin opener); you experience the joy of cooking and eating in the open; and you run around in the way nature intended. I can't wait to take my grandchildren camping for the first time!

For all the things you do have to take and to organise, camping still remains one of the simplest and cheapest ways of enjoying yourself, getting away from it all and of exploring the wildest parts of the countryside. Oh, and for Steve and Pete's sake, you still don't need to tow anything...


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