Barely a month has passed since “Operation Get The Family Into Camping” began. In that time, I’ve gone from sneaking in quick trips to the mountains on my own whenever I can (and feeling guilty for leaving the family behind) to having the troops practically begging to take the tent out every weekend.
It’s the dream for every working parent craving more outdoors time. The kids love it. My wife wasn’t cold. And we now spend our evenings planning the next escape.
So what’s my secret, I hear you cry. Well, lots of planning, research, organisation and having the right kit certainly helped. More on that later. Today I’m going to tell you about how I phased in the camping trips to ensure we didn’t fall at the first hurdle.
Phase 1 – The Garden
Before you pack up the car with your shiny new camping kit and head off to the hills, you need to make sure you are confident using it. There’s nothing more daunting than putting up your tent for the first time under the watchful eyes of your fellow campers as night falls and children are hungry.
Pick a sunny day one weekend and put your tent up in the garden. Break it down into broad stages and commit those to memory. Same goes for any folding tables, chairs, kitchen units, airbeds, stoves…
Then spend the afternoon outside. Have lunch in the tent. Give your children small jobs to do. Let them lie in their sleeping bags and put things in cubby holes. It’s all about building excitement and getting them familiar with the kit.
I’d planned to stop there but a request was made to sleep in the garden. So that’s what we did. It was brilliant, and although I only slept lightly, worrying about whether the children were too hot / too cold, the garden was the perfect sandbox environment to work out the answer to these questions. The last place you want to do this is on a campsite at three in the morning when the extra blankets are back at home.
Don’t have a garden or your enormous tent won’t fit? Find a friend with a big garden, have a sleepover at theirs and double the fun.
Phase 2 – Glamping
Garden expedition complete, it’s time for Phase 2. This is all about familiarising yourself with the routine of a camping trip. What do you actually do when you are there? How are everyday tasks different from when you are at home?
The beauty of glamping (and I mean proper glamping here – with all the furniture and mod-cons provided) is that you don’t have to worry about any of the set up. Simply turn up and start enjoying your holiday, safe in the knowledge that everything is provided.
It turns out ‘what do you actually do on a camping holiday’ kind of takes care of itself. The children became free-range within about 30 seconds – exploring the pod, following the chickens around and generally burning off steam. Even mundane tasks such as brushing your teeth take on a new excitement when you are in a little Hobbit house. It was wonderful to see the kids creating their own entertainment in the outdoors.
This free entertainment allowed Mrs Highs and Lows and I to do a spot of unpacking, without the added pressure of getting a shelter up quickly and realising you’ve forgotten some vital piece of equipment. It gave us some much needed confidence plus thinking space as to what we might need if we were under canvas.
Now, you could swap Phases 1 and 2 around. If there’s any doubt, a glamping holiday is ideal for assessing whether you would actually enjoy camping. I was too impatient and used the first flicker of enthusiasm as an excuse to buy some shiny new camping toys. But if you want to try before you buy, then glamping is something to think about as a first step.
Phase 3 – One night away
Practice runs complete, it was time for the real thing. I felt there was a lot riding on this and probably put too much pressure on myself for it to be a success.
I needn’t have worried. Camping with our own equipment was a natural progression from glamping and the environment was already familiar after our recce in the garden. We’d designed our own checklist and were confident we had everything. The campsite was booked and we’d chosen a familiar location with activities on hand whatever the weather.
Putting the tent up was a breeze and the children were keen to replicate their jobs from the garden – passing me the pegs, pumping up their beds and unpacking the sleeping bags. This allowed me to get on with cooking an easy tea – a big pot of pasta to fill hungry tummies.
Kids asleep, I finally relaxed and enjoyed the views across the valley. We slept soundly, dreaming of many happy camping trips to come.
For our glamping trip, we stayed at the marvellous Bracken Burrows in the Yorkshire Wolds. With only three pods on the site, owners Lucy and Nick couldn’t have been more welcoming. A lovely part of the country, the Yorkshire Wolds tend to be quieter than other national parks, and it gave us the perfect opportunity to practise our camping skills (essentially lounging by the fire pit and watching barn owls hunt in the fields).
Camping was in the Lake District at Lanefoot Farm. The location is spot on, with views across to Skiddaw and Keswick just a few miles away. The site is friendly, quiet and clean with plenty to keep children and adults happy. It should definitely be on your shortlist for your first camping trip.