During a recent campervan expedition we found ourselves at an attractive but busy campsite where we shared field space with those who shelter under nylon, which caused me to question why they do so - and no, it’s not just because they don’t have campervans. (I want to make it clear that campervans, despite the misleading name, should in no way be compared with tents - the essential difference being that they are weather-tight). Although, during our stay, the weather was constantly dry and fine, there is no denying the fact that, in Britain at least, camping can turn out to be little more than a complicated way of getting wet.
Motivation for camping, therefore, is a puzzle – although perhaps not when children are involved, for they experience campsites as adventure playgrounds where rules are relaxed and they can enjoy a degree of anarchy. As a six-year old I told my mother one afternoon that I felt homesick. “What do you mean?” she asked “How can you be homesick when you are at home?” “Oh”, I replied “I mean I’m sick of being at home”. Camping would have been just the thing for me then but my parents showed no interest in it. Perhaps they had done a cost/benefit analysis and decided against it. Observing one of the families on site I wouldn’t disagree: the mother was constantly engaged in rounding up, regulating, feeding, washing and clothing three small, wayward children while the father filled or emptied buckets, fanned charcoal, assembled pieces of camping equipment and tinkered with his Land Rover. It would all have been so much easier at home.
Elsewhere there were slicker operations: for example the consolidated group of German families. Their corral of vehicles and tents surrounded a mass of tables and chairs set out under a large awning where they gathered together with their numerous offspring for communal meals. The scope and utility of their equipment and the precision with which it was deployed surely contributed to the air of text-book cheeriness that pervaded their encampment. But, if this represented a relaxation of the rules for the children, their regular regime at home must be akin to that of a military academy.
The motivation of the two fat ladies without children on the other side of the field remained a mystery. Each of them had a retro-styled tent big enough to accommodate a troop of girl-guides. The contents glimpsed through the flaps included complete fold-up kitchens, suites of collapsible furniture, multi-coloured rugs and scatter-cushions. Planted all around the outside was a collection of faux-gypsy gear: an iron cooking pot suspended on a tripod, blankets, folding stools, an array of coloured lanterns and weird symbols suspended from sticks and strings,The money they had spent on their camping equipment would have bought them a five-star holiday in any millionaire resort yet they seemed content to share a field with hundreds of assorted strangers.
Even given fair weather a satisfactory camping experience requires adequate equipment but there are those who, seduced by the tsunami of cheap but attractively designed ‘must-have’ accessories, over-equip themselves in an effort to ensure their experience lacks none of the comforts of home and includes none of the discomforts of the outdoors.
The very few who cling to Spartan ways do so out of necessity. They comprise hikers and climbers whose priority is the pursuit of their chosen activity and for whom overnight camping is a necessity. But even these worthy folk are not immune to the lure of hi-tec equipment. Look inside their rucksacks and you will find the latest and most expensive designs in lightweight, high-performance tents, sleeping bags, cooking devices and utensils.
Oh, and did I mention the on-site facilities? By 09.00 each morning there was a queue outside the restaurant where competent chefs laboured to produce the whole range of breakfast dishes, from croissants to fry-ups, and charming Polish girls served Indian tea and Italian coffe while, on the field outside, hundreds of nifty little collapsible stoves lay idle and unattended.