The Joys of Impromptu Camping

How an unplanned night under canvas (or nylon) can recharge those batteries

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I didn’t really camp much as a child – my family opted for different types of holidays, all wonderful, but never camping. We did however camp out in the back garden on occasion (which was a lot of fun) and I recall enjoying the camping trips that came with being a member of the Brownies/Guides.

As an adult I have camped a lot. I love being outside…if the weather wasn’t quite so rubbish, I often think how I’d like to live outside. I sleep better, I feel well, the noises and the smells warm my soul. Outside, amongst hills and green and nature is definitely my happy place. My husband is very outdoorsy (not keen on that word but you know what I mean) and as an active caver, fell runner and walker, he has encouraged me to embrace being outside as often as possible. The effects that simply ‘being’ outside have had on my mental health have been transformative. Ever since Matt and I met 20 years ago, we have camped – on campsites, in the wild and all the possibilities in between.

I love that even making a coffee when you’re camping takes a little time and effort  – it tastes so much better for it!

Most years we take our children to France, where we travel around for a few weeks camping at various places that we find along the way. It’s good fun and a bit of an adventure as we never quite know where we are going to end up – it has also taught our children so much about working together, appreciating the simple things and not taking anything for granted (I love that even making a coffee when you’re camping takes a little time and effort  – it tastes so much better for it!).

Whilst I might paint a picture of our camping life as being something ‘The Walton’s’ would aspire to, there are and have been many occasions when I begrudge the efforts that come with it  (3 kids and two dogs…). I can feel exhausted from preparation even before we have set off on our adventure. This has undoubtedly become easier as our children have got older (they can now carry their own rucksacks, pitch their own tents, cook their own food – yippee!!!) and watching them get better at being resilient, capable campers as the years have gone on, is a joy in itself.

Left to right, Tilly, Rowan and Freyja. My girls in the ‘big’ tent in Southern France, summer 2008

It took many years, but we now have a finely tuned routine about what goes where and who does what when preparing for our camping trips – we have specific tents for short 1-2 night stops and a larger more comfortable tent for trips of a week or more (it takes about half a day to put up!). The girls know how to prepare food for themselves on a trangia (they take great delight in prepping their own pasta and hot chocolate for an evening treat) and that there is an expectation that they carry their own bedding and clothes (often up a very big hill) to wherever we might be heading to. They (appear to) enjoy it – taking on the responsibility with gusto and often walking ahead of us to show their independence and adventurous spirit. Thankfully all those years of multiple trips up and down hills, carrying babies on our backs, waking up throughout the night to comfort a confused toddler have paid off and although they seemed a little stressful at the time, looking back it was so worth it.

My husband has camping and outdoor life in his blood. Nothing phases him and he has taught me so much about slowing down and enjoying the simplicities that go hand in hand with living outdoors. I am now a braver camper than I ever was and that makes me feel good. I would never have considered popping out to camp just for one night as the thought of all the prep and effort (for one measly night) would have overwhelmed me, but recently my mind has been changed on this…

For us, as a busy working family, camping was reserved for the school summer holidays and perhaps a half term here and there – but, as I mentioned above, after many years of reflection, I realised how good for the soul camping truly is, so why aren’t we doing it more often rather than once or twice a year? We live on the edge of the Lake District and the Yorkshire Dales and so why shouldn’t we just take off at the weekend, at a moments notice and enjoy all of the wonderfully beneficial properties that life outdoors has to offer – a recharging of batteries if you will, ready for another working week. So last week, that’s exactly what we did.

Granted, we had a little bit of a reason for going as Matt is a member of Bradford Pothole Club, who have an annual meet up at Gaping Gill (one of the largest underground chambers in the UK – it is seriously impressive), whereby they rig up a winch to allow members of the public to enjoy this beautiful cave and also spend time with other cavers exploring various parts of the cave systems in the area. During the month of May each year, club members go and camp next to Gaping Gill (it’s fab – like a little village). Matt is always involved and often takes our girls up to help out too. There is a sense of commaraderie here that is enviable – people of all ages from all walks of life mucking in to get everythings set up and having a lot of laughs along the way. They are a welcoming bunch and perhaps don’t realise the full extent of the positivity that rubs off on those ariund them. I have attended with Matt a few times over the years but have often failed to ‘sleepover’ due to my hang ups about prepping for camping and the time and effort it takes blah blah blah…

Matt said to me last Friday, ‘You should come up tomorrow, switch your brain off and just do it’. In the past I’d has scoffed at his blasé attitude and ranted about having work to do and it’s all too last minute for me. But this year felt different. The spate of good weather helped of course, but my spirits felt immediately lifted at the thought of being and sleeping outside and having some quality time with my gang.

Matt headed off on the Friday evening and the next morning I went to work, leaving my girls armed with lists of what to pack. When I had returned mid afternoon – the bags were packed and we were ready to go. We enjoyed the most beautiful walk through the Farrer Estate (Clapham), past Ingleborough show cave (pit stop for ice cream) and up through trow gill gorge to meet Matt and the others at Gaping Gill. It takes about 90 mins to walk up there and it was baking hot. I think I smiled the whole way and chatted with my girls about all sorts of things and was very conscious of the fact that times like these are what it’s all about – utter contentment.

Tilly and Rowan enjoying a snack they’d prepared

So I had my impromptu night under canvas and it was wonderful. I didn’t allow the stress of the prep to tarnish our plans and gladly handed over (this is difficult for me as I like doing everything myself) packing duties to my girls. We returned home the next day with sunburnt noses and positive attitudes, ready for the week ahead. I made a promise to myself to do this more often and to try to remember that often the simple things are what really make us feel happy and alive.


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