THIS weekend, I took my daughters along to their school’s annual camping weekend. This took place on the school’s playing fields in Pitton, offering a winning combination of sweeping countryside beyond and school facilities closer to hand.
Camping is one of those pursuits that can sometimes end up seeming better in theory than in practice. There’s definitely something romantic about sitting out around a campfire under the stars: but there’s also something somewhat less romantic about being woken by one daughter wanting to go to the loo at one in the morning, and another waking everyone up to check out the view at twenty past five. And while the kids bounce back full of life the following morning, for adults it can sometimes be a more bleary-eyed experience.
People have been camping for centuries, but as a recognized leisure activity, its UK roots can be found in the late nineteenth century. The person largely responsible was Thomas Hiram Holding, who taught himself the art of camping travelling across the American prairies in the 1850s, writing his experiences up in the first Campers’ Handbook. He later invented an early form of portable tent, and took this on a cycling holiday around Ireland in 1898.
In 1901, Holding formed the Association of Cycle Campers: it originally had just thirteen members, with six turning up to the inaugural meeting. But this fledgling organization was the start of today’s Camping and Caravanning Club: over the years the club has seen a range of presidents from Captain Scott and Lord Baden-Powell to David Bellamy and Julia Bradbury; its current membership is well over 600,000.
The popularity and credibility of camping has ebbed and flowed over the years, but it is now perhaps as popular as it has ever been, with a wealth of books to help you: for those who like the off-the-beaten-track approach, there are the Cool Camping guides of hidden campsite gems; for foodies, there is Ali Ray’s mouthwatering Pitch Up, Eat Local, showing where to buy and how to cook the best local produce; and for those just starting out, Simon McGrath’s excellent Camping With Kids is full of ways to keep younger campers entertained.
One of the great things about living in this corner of the country is the variety of amazing campsites on our doorstep: places like West Knoyle’s Bush Farm, complete with its herd of bison in the background; the 13th century farmhouse of Stowford Manor near Trowbridge; and Embers Camping at Beaulieu, where every pitch has its own fire pit.
With such great locations nearby, you don’t have to go that far for an inexpensive summer break the children will remember long after they have returned to school.