Saturday, 26 October 2013


I'm now up in the East Midlands, not far from Stamford, on a Caravan Club site in Fineshade Woods. Rain fell heavily yesterday evening, and it was very windy. The rain drummed against roof and windows, and the wind hurled itself against my home on wheels, very fiercely sometimes, but I was snug and warm and secure, and I didn't care. In my spotlight-lit and electrically-heated retreat all was cosy comfort. The site has wi-fi, and after cooking and washing-up, I lazily surfed the Internet. Just like home.

Of course it would have been very different if camping in a tent. In the face of what nature can do, tents are flimsy, insubstantial things. Thery are not up off the cold wet ground on wheels, not absolutely watertight, not insulated, and can be invaded by ants. Modern tents are no doubt easier to erect than the sort my Dad used for our family holidays for years on end from the mid-1960s to the early 1970s. His was made of orange wind-catching canvas draped over an elaborate framework of metal poles, and stretched tight using dozens of pegs that all had to be hammered in. There were unlit inner tents for 'bedrooms' in which one got sleep of a sort on inflatable li-los. A total faff to set up. A total faff to pack away. Very basic cooking on a fold-away Camping Gaz hob. No mains electricity for light and heat. Uncomfortable folding chairs to sit on. Unless willing to use the normally unheated on-site toilet and washbasin facilities - no showers - we all made do with a plastic bowl to wash in, and a potty at night to pee in. I couldn't face all that now, not for any inducement. Holidays must be comfortable experiences, or else I'm not going!

And yet there are basic shelters about that have a certain appeal. Beach huts for example, the sort that line the British coastline, whether painted in council-regulation green or blue, or gaily in any colour or style that the owner likes, complete with a whimsical name like 'Idlehours' or 'Sundream'. Although you can't usually sleep in them, these are genuinely weatherproof little cabins fit for any sort of day, whether gloriously hot and sunny, or cold and stormy. You go there to escape, to drink tea or coffee, eat sandwiches, heat up hot soup, read a good book, and watch the waves through a doorway, out of the wind; or if the weather is suitable, sit outside on sun-loungers, and smile at passers-by. Or just close your eyes and relax. Beach huts are very undemanding: you don't have to tow them about, nor do you have to set them up. Just stroll there with a basket of fresh milk and something tasty to eat, unlock the door, sit down, and dream on.

Yesterday, after arriving in the caravan, there was time before sunset to explore the nearby woods, which are in the care of the Forestry Commission. I came across a 'Youth Base Camp'. Curious, I had a closer look. It was in a clearing. There was a central place to build a big fire, with logs around it to sit on. Set back from this, but still close enough to get some light and heat from the fire, were three very well-built shelters, with a Scandinavian look to them. Each was a low rectangular pinewood cave, open towards the fire, offering a clean and dry place for a few kids to sit around on their sleeping bags, right out of the wind and any rain. The three shelters were all raised off the ground, and had thick, overhanging roofs that were grassed over. Given a big, cheerful fire, you could easily imagine being warm and perfectly sheltered on a frosty night. Or even in light snow.

Was I tempted? Did the spirit of outdoor adventure stir within? Well, no; but I do wish the obligatory and dreadful New Forest Camp for second-formers that I'd had to endure in 1965 - a Durance Vile in every way - had used these rather appealing pinewood shelters, and not the smelly bell-tents we had to inhabit like pigs in a hovel. (There are stories connected with that New Forest Camp, illustrating how I violently asserted myself and won respect, and how I scorned the chance of tempting home comforts on Parents' Visiting Day, that will feature in another post)


  1. As a mater of principle I refused to go on any school trip requiring an overnight stay and many other unappealing ones too!

    The company of boys for any longer than absolutely necessary was avoided at all costs and their company whilst not under strict supervision and control is my idea of hell.

  2. It was obligatory unless ill (which is how one kid in my form got out of it). The purpose of this week of smelly tents, smelly latrine trenches, horrible porrage, and lessons on trees, frogs, badgers and deer poo, still escapes me. Quite apart, as you say, from the horrors of boys on the rampage.

    Nothing better could have been devised to quell a love of life in the Great Outdoors than this. Four years later, on my A Level Geography Field Visit to the Scottish isle of Arran, the approach had hardly changed, although for that it was cabins. Another topic to be exorcised by a post!



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