We spent to long, diamond jubilee weekend camping at Gibside. As always, it was a bit of a gamble. The weather was pretty grim to start with and it was never what you would call warm. However, if you have promised to take your children camping and have spent several hours packing the car, you have to get on with it and hope for the best.
Camping is a strange experience. There’s no doubt in my mind that it is good for the soul, even if the body is feeling rather like an ice block. It takes existence back to a much more basic level.
For example, you get a real sense of how much water you actually need to use. Our washing up was done in a couple of inches of water in the bottom of a bucket (note to self – you need proportionately less washing up liquid too or the bubbles are ridiculous).
The children ran around the camping field, playing football, hunting for bugs, chasing bubbles and making new friends. Even Babykins had relative freedom to explore.
I wouldn’t go so far as to say that the grown ups had complete freedom but we were freed from the bother of work, emails, housework and laundry. Being with a couple of other families also freed us from some of the ‘entertaining’ that often comes with small children. After only two nights, we felt as if we’d had a real break.
Gibside is a National Trust property just outside Newcastle-upon-Tyne. It is not a proper campsite so the facilities were basic. There were six port-a-loos for the whole field of 80 pitches. However, the Trust volunteers did a sterling job of keeping them clean and stocked with loo roll. There was also a programme of optional activities at no extra cost. On our first afternoon we scampered off into the woods to take part in some den building and marshmallow toasting. The volunteers had had a bit of trouble lighting the fire because everything was so wet.
One of the more imaginative members of our party had brought along some candles and mini marshmallows so we could do some toasting at our tent. This took considerably longer…..
On Sunday we took the children to the new looking play area. It was very popular with our bunch. It’s central area is made up of a wooden fort called ‘Strawberry Castle’ with lots of spaces to climb up, over and through. They chased in and out of it for ages. You can just see the edge of it in the left of picture below.
There were three smaller play houses at the edge of the space. Babykins had fun with these too. He had no trouble climbing the stairs and negotiating the slide.
Son Number One and the Middle Miss were treated to a spot of face painting. It wasn’t cheap (£3.50) but in the case of Middle Miss’s paint job, very much worth it. I could have done Son Number One’s myself.
There was some gentle entertainment on the camping field each evening. The steel band the first night was particularly good. Food was available in the form of ‘something in a bun’ and there was a mini bar with real ale. It really was quite civilised. There was even a coffee stand in the mornings. It didn’t stop us from cooking a ‘full English’ on Sunday though. We pooled resources so here I am cooking the sausages. Don’t I look fabulous in my flannel PJ’s and wooly hat.
Do you like my camp kitchen? It is a 1980’s original that I pinched from my Mum. I remember taking it on family camping trips when I was younger. It folds up beautifully small.
It’s a shame I couldn’t get the matching gas stove mended.
In hindsight, we should probably have taken less food and ‘eaten out’ more at the facilities on site. So, with that lesson in mind, here are my top tips for family camping.
1. Choose your site carefully. Check here for honest reviews of virtually every camp site in the land. Be aware that sites that often allow basic, back to nature camping with open fires etc. are also often the least well supervised and frequently attract loud, beery groups. This is not the case for all sites but it’s worth bearing in mind. It’s also worth checking out what is available for wet weather. If there is some sheltered activity to take the children to within walking distance so much the better. In the event of rain on packing up day it could make all the difference.
2. Consider camping with friends. We have found that having other children around makes life much easier. Depending on the age of your children, they can sometimes be just that bit more independent when they function as a team. We are very lucky to have been camping with very old friends (and some newish ones) who have children almost exactly the same age and sex as our older two. I honestly don’t think they bickered at all. Having other children around also means you can share toys, games and general mayhem.
3. Don’t go far from home. I suggest an hour and a half maximum travelling distance for your first few trips at least. You don’t want to arrive at a site late at night and then have the bother of setting up, especially with tired children.
4. Take more bedclothes than you think you will need. Stuff extra blankets and duvets into each and every available space. Make sure you have plenty of warmth below you as well as above. Make sure you all have fluffy pyjamas and a hat that can be worn at night. Ideally, take hot water bottles too. I’m not kidding, it gets COLD at night in the UK, especially in this joke of a summer we’re currently experiencing.
5. A dust pan and brush is an essential item. Honestly. Don’t forget bin bags either (I did).
6. You can’t beat a head torch for convenience at night.
7. Take a basic first aid kit and make sure it contains insect repellent and antihistamine cream for bites and stings.
8. Children need shoes that they can easily manage themselves. There will be lots of going in and out of tents and you don’t want them bringing half the field in with them (see note about dustpan and brush above). Crocs are ideal in dry weather and wellies/snowboots are essential whatever the weather. Both of these items do double duty in the event of exploring a stream/rockpool.
9. It’s a good idea to have some food readily available. A picnic is ideal for when you first arrive at a site. I also recommend taking a pre-prepared ‘one pot’ meal for your first evening. We almost always take a bit pot of spaghetti bolognese. Ok, I know, that’s two pots by the time you’ve cooked the pasta but you get the idea.
10. If you are choosing a tent think about play space and cooking space. Our tent has stupid porch that is only half sheltered. In wet and windy conditions it’s pointless. Our friends Outwell tent has a brilliant side tunnel extension that houses all their cooking gear. This leaves masses of space inside. You can compare the two below (the photos are from last year – you can tell, the sun is out). Ours is the green one and you can see their tunnel on the right hand side.
No doubt I could add more top tips but I think the traditional and alliterative ten is enough. I’ve got my eye on a lovely new camp site not far from here so maybe there’ll be more camping posts later in the (alleged) summer. So for now I’ll just say “Hi-de-Hi Campers…..”.