Family Traveller’s columnist Mark Woods fires up his enthusiasm for some dad-led camping
There’s a point in late summer when you’re putting tonnes of camping equipment away and you wonder if you’ll ever have the energy or inclination to get it out again. The tent is wet and seemingly 19 times too big to go back in its holdall, every air bed has a puncture and there’s something in the bottom of one of the kids’ sleeping bags that you’re frankly not brave enough to fish out. Best just to stuff it all in the garage and see how we feel next spring.
Fast forward to Easter-ish and without fail every year the memories of damp grass have faded, the bent tent pegs replaced and a new sleeping bag purchased – and the enthusiasm for life under canvas is reborn. To be totally up front with you though, I’m a long, long way from being a hardened outdoorsy type. In fact I’m as fair weather as they come and despite my best intentions we’ve never lasted more than three tented nights on the trot as a family before back ache, a shortage of clean socks and the feeling that I never want to see a sausage again sees me pack up the car at lightening speed.
But there’s a tented tradition started when my children were small that has lasted the test of time and which sees me and a group of friends book into whichever tucked-away sites a little company called Camping Unplugged are operating that year. That all of these friends happen to be fathers was a happy diary accident years back but has now become a thing – a thing which all the kids involved have labelled ‘Dad Camp’.
What makes Dad Camp different is probably just the infrequency of showers taken and the frequency with which pasta-pesto with a chipolata on the side constitutes tea. But everyone involved loves it, and that is largely down to the Camping Unplugged ethos. It’s about as far away from glamping as you can get, with compostable toilets aplenty and not a hook-up point or pitch number is sight. With open country camping in beautiful and often ancient natural landscapes at its heart you really do feel like you have dropped off the grid for a day or two. With camp fires allowed and sustainable logs available you get the full ‘marsh mellow’ experience too.
Let’s not forget the unplugged part of the deal too – as devices run down and the charge drops into single figures there’s an initial outbreak of sweaty palms and twitchy fingers as the reality of life without screens starts to dawn.
The kids are generally fine with it though. As the cricket bats, frisbees, shuttlecocks and yes, gins, come out in the cool of the early evenings, all the undeniable grief that comes with the tented life seems to melt away and for a blissful moment you can’t imagine being anywhere better. So if you’re tempted to brave that camping gear in the garage any time soon, hold your nose and dive in – but give that sleeping bag a miss.
Mark Woods has written Pregnancy for Men and Babies and Toddlers for Men and hosts the Planet Parent podcast