Our first camping trip and top tips for new adventurers

OK, OK, I know it’s October now (almost November!), but I’m going to share this post anyway because a) I spent ages editing the photos and b) it’s about our first ever camping trip, which the kids loved and I feel deserves a mention.

After years of agonising and umm-ing and ahh-ing, we finally made the decision to buy a bell tent at the beginning of the summer. I did a LOT of research into it, as they’re really bloody expensive (I actually got sweaty palms when I clicked ‘buy now’) and I didn’t want it to be something that ended up stuck in the loft for the next few years, gathering dust. We decided on this style for the following reasons:

1. They’re one large compartment, rather than separate rooms, which meant the kiddos would be able to see us if they woke up in the night. Daisy is only five, and Ben has autism, and they both get a bit anxious at night time.

2. I’d spent a few nights in a nylon tent before and they only ever ended one way – sweaty and uncomfortable. I was drawn to the fact that the canvas promised to keep us cooler in the summer, but also warmer during chillier nights.

3. They look nice. What? They do!

4. They’re hardier than nylon tents, and usually last longer (apparently).

We don’t have a lot of money, so we ended up deciding that we’d rather spend what we’d saved on equipment that could take us on holiday for years to come, instead of just going on one expensive holiday – the kiddos love being outdoors, so it was pretty much a no brainer for us in the end.

We had a practice run pitching it in the garden, which seemed to go pretty smoothly, and when we arrived in Dorset, Ali put the tent up on his own while I went off exploring with the kiddos. We opted for Snelling Farm Campsite in Wareham, which was a bit out of the way but utterly lovely; Daisy was fascinated by the pigs in the next field, and both kids loved the rope swing and hay bales that had been left for climbing and leaping purposes. There were eco-showers and a composting toilet – which was fine, but admittedly I would have been happier if there had been a sink to wash your hands in rather than just a tub of hand gel on the shelf. That’s honestly the only thing I could find fault with though; the owners were absolutely lovely, I loved the fact that you could arrive and leave whenever you pleased, the fields were absolutely huge and wonderfully flat, and most importantly of all, you could park by your pitch (which I’ve since learned is paramount to a cheerful camping experience!).  A short walk away was the cleanest river I’ve ever seen – I’d not packed any swimwear, because the forecast had promised cloud and rain, but we rolled up trouser legs and spent a good half an hour watching Ben and Daisy swishing about in the water, chatting to other kids and sharing fishing nets (nobody caught anything except stones, but the thought was there!). I was thinking how brilliant it was that they embraced the outdoors so willingly, until it came to an abrupt end when the cold water finally got the better of Daisy and she wet herself trying to climb up the bank.

We’d only come for one night, as it was more of a trial run, so we got some local fish and chips, toasted some marshmallows on the firepit (in the drizzle – I was determined that the rain wasn’t going to stop us!) and then tucked the kiddos into bed. I was expecting it to be a nightmare trying to get them to sleep, but they were pretty good and slept all night as well – must have been all that wild swimming!

We were due to leave the next day, but there was no specific check out time, so we decided to head over to Kimmeridge Bay, which I’d heard was good for fossil hunting; unfortunately the tide was in when we got there, so we walked over the cliffs instead. The views were amazing, although I did spend a lot of time clutching the handrail and praying the wind didn’t blow too hard!

On the whole, our first camping trip was a success; it made us all want to go further afield, and a lot of that was because of how comfortable we were in the tent – the kids absolutely loved that they had somewhere to stretch out inside, and I had enough space to make lunches the next day to take out with us. It was warm, it was dry and it was easy enough to put up and take down – the down side would have to be how heavy the tent was when it was packed away; we got the Soulpad 5000 Hybrid, and it was an absolute beast. I’m not ashamed to admit that there’s no way I could lift it on my own, never mind carry it to a pitch with everything else, so we’re pretty limited to the times we can go away (Ali works in an office with standard hours, no freelance life for him!) Also, admittedly, bell tents are a bit of a nightmare to dry – you can pack them away wet, but have to re-pitch them when you get home so they can dry off properly, otherwise you risk mould and mildew, and rotting canvas. We were luck – by the time we got back from Kimmeridge, the drizzle from the night before had completely dried, and we just had to give the ropes a bit of a wipe.

Another thing I learned from our first trip, was that although you need a shit-load of stuff for camping, you don’t need quite as much as I took. We’ve got a Vauxhall Meriva, which is a fairly good size, but it was no match for my packing; the kiddos had to sit with their legs out in front of them, as the footwells were all full, and the only way we got the boot shut was by holding the stuff in and then slamming it closed as quickly as possible. The other valuable things I learned from our time in the wilderness (!) were:

1. Pack for every type of weather, even if you don’t think you’ll need to. Waterproofs, a good thick jumper, wellies and swimwear should all be at the top of your list – this is the UK, after all!

2. If you’re keen to get involved with cooking on a fire (or coals, or a camping stove), practise before you go away – and make sure you take plenty of packet soups and Pot Noodles as emergency back up meals!

3. If you can’t be bothered faffing about with cooking, research the area you’re going to and find out what takeaways there are locally – you’d be hard pressed not to find at least one good chippy nearby!

4. Take more clothes than you think you’ll need. Packing for the exact amount of days you’re away is fine if you’re staying in the comfort of a hotel or B&B, but it’s hopeless if you’re going to be wading through mud to the loo in the middle of the night. Or you’ve got a daughter that wees in rivers.

5. Battery lanterns are pretty, and good for lighting inside the tent, but absolutely hopeless for wandering around the campsite after dark. Get yourself a good torch with a strong beam, otherwise you’ll end up falling over the guy ropes and landing on the tent. Or something.

6. Do yourself a favour and pitch as close to the toilets as you can, without being in sniffing distance of them; on a later trip (more about that in another post), we were miles away, and I ended up laying awake one night rather than actually getting up to go, because I was so utterly terrified that Leatherface / a zombie from the Walking Dead / Annabelle was going to leap out of the bushes and get me.

7. You can never have too many matches or plasters.

8. Take as many blankets as you can possibly squeeze in. Even in the summer, it was utterly freezing at night, and we had proper outdoors-y sleeping bags. Leave the board games, yarn projects, books and bunting at home, and just take blankets. Trust me.

We did a second trip to Pembrokeshire a few weeks after, which is coming up in another post soon, and we really enjoyed it – Ali has already booked some time off over Easter next year, so we can get going earlier and make the most of the warmer weather. Roll on spring!

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