Well, we survived, but largely because it turns out that camping isn’t in fact the back-to-basics experience it was when I was doing my Duke of Edinburgh Gold award and hiking over the Cairngorms with an A frame tent and a mini gas stove on my back. (I’m still not sure whether I’m so old that lightweight pop-up tents hadn’t been invented then, or if my school was just run by sadists.) Midlife camping it seems involves recreating your own home in a field, but just with almost everything either foldable or made out of canvas.
Last weekend’s jaunt to Dorset, a county almost entirely owned by the National Trust, saw us battle not only 3am gales, driving rain and wasp stings, but also a growing case of tent-envy as we eyed up gazebos-cum-kitchens complete with gas-fired barbecues and one-piece foldout table and chairs, or an Indian-style marquee so lofty it was able to accommodate its own chandelier.
Among the more improbable items brought for the weekend by various members of our group, and all deemed ‘essential’, were: a drum kit, a saxophone, a giant wooden pepper mill, a DVD player, a selection of diabolos, the Welsh flag (+ telescopic flag pole), cricket stumps, a 35pint polypin of beer, a 15 year old malt, teriyaki marinade, hair straighteners, an axe, a fish cooker, proper boules, a guitar, a treble recorder, a cast iron brazier, solar powered garden lights, organic burgers, fresh herbs cut from the garden before leaving home. One car had its own fridge. One family had brought their own toilet.
The world has also moved on since the days of OS maps, contour lines and compasses; everyone goes camping with their iPhones. (From basic GPS to pints of beer one appears to drink, it appears there’s an app for everything short of toilet paper.)
In France, campsites are so cushy that it is common for freshly baked croissants and newspapers to be delivered to your tent each morning; on some 4* sites there are tents that come with ready-assembled four poster beds.
As every midlife camper knows, the great outdoors is great, but there’s no way we’re slumming it. We are finally old enough to accept our own eccentricities, and old enough to have cars large enough to transport them in.