Put down the iPad and get your kids, and yourself, back outdoors in the school holidays.
As Jake woke, he rubbed his eyes and looked briefly confused by the strange surroundings. It was hot and ludicrously light inside our tent, like a giant canvas lightbulb parked close to the sun.
‘Too bright,’ he whimpered, shielding his face from the glow. He stumbled over to the end of the tent and peed out of the flaps. You can get away with that when you’re three.
Outside, the sun was shining and the sky was blue. We were wild camping in a farmer’s field in south Devon, with friends and a panoramic view of the sea. It was idyllic.
In many ways, it’s completely mad to take your children to sleep in the open without any of the major amenities you’ve spent your life struggling to buy, like a roof, cooker, fridge, bathroom.
But mad can be fun. And it helps littlers to develop into nicely rounded humans by discouraging them from being prissy about mud and bodily hygiene, and by reminding them how lucky they are to have taps at home. Surveys show that while half our children played in the wild a few decades ago, now it’s less than 10 per cent. We’re turning them into pampered little screen obsessives. Worst of all, if they can’t make a fire, pick up a frog or climb a tree, they might become just a little bit boring. Children need to get muddy, mucky and feral.
I propose a new law: every family should be legally obliged to take their children camping at least once a year.
You can take the ultra-light camping approach of course. But with children, you generally need a bit of kit. We have a couple of old tents, but usually opt for our giant bell tent that can house a village, has lots of space for rainy play, but is a bugger to shift and dry when wet. Then we pack out the van and take luxuries such as proper pillows, camping chairs and boxes of toys.
When you camp, life is reduced to the basic elements. Hours are spent planning food, preparing food and cooking. Bliss! Children just spend their time playing. The sight of my lad and his friends collapsing in hysterical laughter while each tried to win the sack race next to our tent is stamped on my heart and soul.
Tips? Take a rain awning, torches, recycling bag, trowel, bunting, boules, a Kelly Kettle, magnifying glasses (for hunting insects), and some food that doesn’t need cooking, because a dribble of rain will inevitably snuff out your fire just as children need feeding.
A dose of optimism obviously helps. The golden rule has to be: We Will Enjoy Ourselves. But the main thing to check when you’re going camping is whether the site or the farmer allows fires, or only fires off the ground. Being able to toast and burn stuff is pretty much the point of camping, so a no-fires-policy site is one you should avoid. Leave it for the caravanners.
To read more of Simon Reeve’s columns, visit familytraveller.com/simonreeve.
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