Take the city kids camping
Let me start by assuring all the reluctant campers out there that I was once like you. And I’ll reassure you a little more by letting you in on a few secrets - I don’t like being dirty, using cold showers and spider filled public toilets and most around me are fairly convinced I’m OCD when it comes to tidiness, organisation, clutter etc. So fear not, if I can do it, so can you! Read on to learn some of my tips for making camping a bearable if not fun experience.
I’m definitely not going to say that I’d opt for a camping holiday over a villa, cottage or hotel holiday but I have come around to camping and see how much the kids love it. The freedom, adventure and responsibility that they don’t often get living in a city.
Wet wet wet at Wowo
My first camping experience was when my youngest of three was a mere 5 months old, still feeding every 2 hours day and night and only wanted Mummy. I agreed to go because we were going with a big group to celebrate a friend’s significant birthday, it was August and not more than 2 hours from our South London home in case I needed to escape. (Campsite: Wowo in Sussex)
I’ve lived in the UK long enough to know that the month doesn’t mean much in regards to weather. We spent the first 36 hours mostly in the tent dodging the downpours and 15 degree temperatures. But then all of a sudden, the clouds parted, the sun came out and everyone emerged from the tents.
And what came next? The kids ran wild around the campsite in a tribe with the other city children without a care for neighbours, the busy road and strangers in the street. The parents cracked open the drinks, had a vague idea where the children were and revelled in the fact that we didn’t once hear how bored or hungry the kids were. Funny how they don’t need to eat every 15 minutes when they are running free and having a whale of a time!
So I survived the first experience and agreed to go again the next summer. For some variety, we tried a different campsite, still only about 2 hours from South London. This campsite is clean but somewhat basic. With the little one toddling around, we like this campsite for its layout. There is a single field where all the tents are situated around the perimeter and surrounded by a great thick hedge so all the kids play in the centre without fear of anyone wandering off. There are also great walking trails that take you past Doddington Place, Virginia Wade’s former home and few lovely country pubs with beer gardens to replenish after walking in the woods. It’s also a short drive from the market town of Faversham and the Oare Marshes, a local nature reserve on the edge of the Oare Creek. (Campsite: Palace Farm Hostel and Campsite near Faversham in Kent)
When we camp, we do a combination of cooking at the tent (my husband loves the back to nature boy scout ritual of building a mammoth fire which he boosts about lighting with only ONE match) and eating out (we like to consider ourselves foodies and love to sample the local food). We eat well when we camp and have some favourites that are good for camping like prawns in garlic and chilli on sourdough bread to start, skewers with marinated lamb, vegetables and halumi, steak, sautéed potatoes and salad, homemade burgers that I make ahead of time and freeze for the journey and more. We get the kids to muck in by helping with trips to refill the water jugs, clean the vegetables and help with the dishes. It’s their way of earning their campfire treat: Smores, the North American campfire favourite. If you keep reading I’ll divulge my tips for making them with products you can find just about anywhere.
(Photos: New Forest near Brockenhurst and Mudeford, Campsite: Hollands Wood Campsite)
(Photos: Norfolk near Burnham Market, Holkham Bay, Blakeney Point, Campsite: Burnham Breck - great view, 5 minute walk to town but very basic)
Now that I’m agreeable to camping, the youngest one isn’t so little anymore and we’ve acquired our own gear, we’ve stretched our reach beyond Kent and have ventured to Swanage (near Corfe Castle), the New Forest, Norfolk and even further afield to an amazing campsite along the Dordogne near Sarlat and another campsite near Bayonne in Basque Country.
(Photos: Ondres, Saint Jean de Luz, San Sebastian & Bayonne, Campsite: Camping du Lac in Ondres)
(Photos: Beynac near Sarlat, France, Campsite: Camping le Capeyrou)
In France, the children not only experience the freedom but also improve their international relations playing with children from all over Europe and sometimes without a common language. Particularly exciting for the children, their boundaries were extended a little past the campsite each morning when they walked across the street (on their own!!) to the Pastisseria, with a few Euros in hand, for the morning croissants. Definitely not something they have the freedom to do in our leafy suburb of South London. And we’ve found the most amazing family run campsite along the Dordogne River near Sarlat where there is an endless list of things to do and see if you tire of lounging by the heated pool and gazing at the medieval chateau atop the rock.
Reluctant to [mostly] happy camper
We’ve learned several things over the years to make the camping experience more enjoyable. Here’s a few things that we have, bring or do:
choose a campsite in an area that we want to visit and explore
we now have all our own camping gear rather than borrowing odds and sods from generous friends
we have a four bedroom tent that is big enough (and then some!) to stand up in and accommodate the table and chairs so we can be inside comfortably when it’s raining (and it always does!)
a floor mat and box/bag for dirty shoes outside the tent under the porch
baby wipes and the dustpan and brush to keep the tent tidy
a camping checklist so we don’t forget anything essential
pack what you can in big plastic boxes with lids. These come in handy to store your non perishable food. Don’t forget plastic food boxes and ziplock bags for leftovers.
pitches in France have electricity and you can hire a pretty big fridge for chilled wine and ice cubes for cocktails!
if you don’t have electricity, freeze 2 litre bottles of water and your milk. These stay frozen longer than ice blocks and you can drink it as it thaws
if we’re arriving late afternoon, we always prepare a meal at home like spaghetti bolognese that can be quickly warmed up when we’re busy setting up and the kids are starving
and more than anything else, seeing my children flourish and enjoy outdoor experiences like I did around my neighbourhood when I was a child their age. Let them be kids and run free!
Thanks for reading until the end. As promised, here’s the way to make Smores and what you’ll need:
Shopping list for Smores
Marshmallows ❊ Chocolate digestive biscuits or similar (in North America we use Graham Crackers) ❊ Milk chocolate (use something thin like Chocolate buttons) if you want it extra chocolatey ❊ some kind of stick or skewer for toasting marshmallows
Take two chocolate biscuits and have them ready with the chocolate side up (or three if you want to make a double decker like my kids above!) ❊ Add extra chocolate if that’s the way you like it ❊ Toast your marshmallow over a campfire or BBQ ❊ When marshmallow is toasted to your liking, sandwich it between your two chocolate biscuits ❊ Eat & enjoy!