Thursday, 21 August 2014

Camping. Glamping?

I have been camping - both on holiday and, occasionally, as a lifestyle: but that's another story - most of my life. I started when I was eleven, when my parents decided that hotel holidays with four children were becoming too expensive, so they bought the largest frame tent they could find and the rest was history.

We are still using some of the equipment from those epic trips around Europe: the 40 year old plastic water carrier (French); the hanging wardrobes, superb for storing all kinds of items, although then we used them for clothes; the stacking saucepans, all fitting in neatly one inside the other; we even have one of the canvas campbeds and a couple of thick sleeping bags which zip together neatly.

My father developed the art of packing the car to an extreme. In days before seatbelts, he took out the back seat and replaced it with tightly bundled sleeping bags tied down with string onto bamboo struts. Add an overstuffed boot, stuff in the rear footwell and a crammed-to-capacity roofrack and we were good to go.

And, of course, we drove for hours and hours and hours. Which is partly why I am more than a little envious of these good friends who camp in France with their tandem. Tent, sleeping bags, cooking equipment and clothes all fit neatly into the panniers or the little trailer. There is room for a good-sized umbrella strapped to the main frame, while laundry is efficiently air-dried from its position draped over the handlebars.

The lure of cycle camping is still there, but I can't complain. Since those childhood trips, camping for me has mostly consisted of a heavy canvas safari tent, complete with wooden poles, in the middle of the bush. When we were first married, we could decide to go camping and be off on safari within half an hour. We had a camping box stocked with enamel cups and plates, simple cutlery, matches and washing up liquid, a gas lamp and stove for emergencies.

Our favourite site was in a remote part of a Lake Bogoria game reserve, populated by flamingoes, greater kudu and the resident leopard, all of which we have seen strolling a few yards from our tent. Throw in scorpions and snakes for excitement and some to spare. A freshwater spring trickled down from the hillside above us and fig trees provided gentle shade. It was a truly magical place.

We took our children camping when they were only a few months old. On our first trip, our daughter screamed while we drove on tarmac, only calming when we bumped and lurched along a murram road, hugely potholed and rutted after heavy rains had wrought their havoc. She has been enthusiastic about trail and bush expeditions ever since.

Our tent rarely saw another in all those years. Remote and isolated, save for wildlife, was our dream. Hyenas  and lions kept us awake at night, occasionally nosing round the outside of our tent and, once, removing laundry from a hanging branch nearby. Superb starlings flocked within touching distance. Elephants walked curiously through the campsite as we watched cautiously from a safe - or so we hoped - distance. And striking camp was ALWAYS exciting - we never knew what we might find hiding beneath the groundsheet.

Then we moved to England, exchanging our faithful wooden camping box for plastic crates, our canvas tent for a lightweight dome. Shocked by the unwelcoming climate, we camped only in Portugal (by air: tent and box came with us, the ground was our seating and our bed tiny self-inflating mattresses). Until New Wine.

Camping within touching distance of the next tent was a new experience - not to mention being with over 10,000 others on the Bath and West Showground at Shepton Mallet. We discovered a new kind of camping, living in community with others from the church for a week. The weather had to be accepted as it was and, generally, was reasonably kind although we were also 'treated' to torrential rain and thunderstorms at times. This was July in England, after all.

Now, our camping has ventured into new territories.  Here at Le Pas Opton, France, we have an idyllic spot by a river, enclosed by hedges. Not only do we have running water, flush toilets and hot showers but, for the first time, we camp With Electricity. Overhead and table lights; a kettle; and a slow cooker.  Beach chairs and an inflatable sofa; rugs on the floor; a tablecloth on the coffee table. No sleeping bags and mattresses, but an airbed complete with sheets, pillows and cosy duvet. No lengthy cooking chores: instead, we prepare a meal in the morning and it is ready for us when we return after an afternoon out. Add to that, a huge tent with living room space and picture windows.

As I wander up to the loos (yes, a walk to the toilets is still a feature of everyday life) in my satin pyjamas (elegant daughter's cast-offs), I wonder: is this, perhaps, glamping?
Evening ambience


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