It should be romantic and restful. Eschewing the unnecessary possessions and comfort indoors to surround yourself with glorious, rejuvenating nature. The smell of the trees, the quiet of the woods, the joy of being unplugged and offline. This was the image of adult camping I had when I booked a long weekend in the New Forest, Dorset.
Having not been camping since the music festivals of my teenage years and early twenties, I was under the impression that it would be peaceful and fun, a way to relax at the end of August before the school year began. I ensured I was prepared. I packed alcohol, paper cups and plates, tongs for the barbecue, three types of wipe (baby, face and Femfresh) and even a picnic blanket. This would be the perfect Insta-camp.
I. Was. Wrong.
The weekend began with a bridge collapse on the motorway. It was 25 degrees, we were making good progress along the M2 when we found ourselves in stand still, wall-to-wall traffic. And there we sat…for 2 hours. A footbridge had collapsed a quarter of a mile in front of us. Thankfully, nobody was seriously hurt but I should have known this was a bad omen, a warning to turn around and go home.
We arrived at the campsite hours later than we had planned and therefore most of the best pitches had been claimed. In my idealised view camping, we would have been on the very edge of the campside, our backs to woods, listening to crickets and the breeze through the tress. Instead, we found ourselves dead centre surrounded by yummy middle-class families with their trucks of designer camping equipment. They had reclining chairs, chrome cast barbecues, Cath Kidston bunting and bicycles. So many gleaming, top of the range bicycles!
Amongst this, myself and Michael began unpacking our tent. As we argued about the best way to face the entrance (I did not want to look out onto anyone!) and where was the smoothest ground (we were camped atop the bumpy roots of an oak tree), a new revelation materialised – we only had six tent pegs. We had a four man tent with only six tent pegs to secure it. Naturally, Michael said it was my fault (which actually it was because I’d picked the tent up from my parents and hadn’t checked the tent peg situation because I had assumed they were there), and so I began the hunt of the local area to find any old, discarded pegs on the ground. Why didn’t I just ask one these middle-class wannabe alpha men surrounding our tent? Why indeed. Embarrassment mostly. We were clearly too poor and unprepared to have camped at this camp site and I couldn’t give other people the satisfaction of their superiority. Having found four rogue, bent-out-of-shape tent pegs, Michael fashioned four more…out of sticks. Although I laughed jokingly, I was mortified. Already I could tell that those smells, sounds and joys of camping were a Pinterest fabrication. Instead, I could smell too many barbecues, hear the constant noise of wild children and their calling mothers and missed the internet.
And so we settled in the for the first evening. Incongruous with this tale of camping calamity, we had a lovely evening. We barbecued on a throw away, laughed at the yummys surrounding us, walked to the local pub and drank pints of local brewed cider whilst sitting on hay bales and listening to a folk band. It was the image I’d had in my mind of camping. Of course, as yet I hadn’t tried to sleep outside. That was to come…
After sleeping on a rocking boat of a blow up bed and hearing bucket after bucket of rain water being dumped on top of the tent by the camping God’s, we were woken by the smell and sound of the yummys having poached eggs and bacon. ‘Giles, do you want avocado with your eggs?…’ Rolling my eyes, I felt unashamed as I’d packed croissants and orange juice for our breakfast – very middle-class. Following breakfast, I ventured towards the shower in the communal block – it was enough to make me tearful (the thirty minute queue, grassy, muddy flooring and getting changed in a toilet cubicle was enough to upset delicate, anxious me) but I dressed and put on my new, pastel pink trainers.
Seeing as it rained through the night, Michael thought it would be best to walk to the next village for lunch following the pavement which ran along the main road. It was about a three mile walk and the road was loud and busy. I was not happy with this plan. I’d come to the woods to walk in the woods – not walk along a main road! I could do that walking at home. So, instead, we walked through the New Forest. While the ground was wet, it was green and luscious. Then came a large patch of brown mud. It looked dry and solid and so, foolishly, I tiptoed through as quickly as possible thinking that I would move so light and quickly that I’d basically float over it. It was only when the mud overlapped my foot and entered the inside of my shoe that I yelped out in horror. And so for the second time that day, I cried. I sat on a log and blubbed about my one ruined shoe. How could I go to a fancy tea room with one pink and one brown shoe? Being the absolute darling that he is, Michael helped take off the mud filled trainer and rummaged through my rucksack to find a tissue or wipe to clean it. Of course, what could he find? The one set of wipes I had kept in my rucksack: Femfresh – wipes I’d packed to keep my lady parts clean while camping. And, because he is such a darling, undeterred, he wiped as much mud as he could off my shoe with wipes for vaginas.
Suffice to say we walked the rest of the way on the pavement alongside the road. After lunch in small cafe, a very short mooch around the very small, drizzle-soaked village (which was filled with very posh car show rooms!), we decided to walk back through the woods, stopping every now and again to take it all in and have some Pepsi and Smarties. The second evening passed with far less enjoyment. We barbecued (with me audibly worrying about the state of the unrefridgerated meat) and then sat outside reading our books in the half light. So far, so romantic. However, as it sun dipped, it got very cold. I did not want to enter the tent as I couldn’t deal with the claustrophobia of the tarpaulin for any longer than necessary and so sat, shivering and whinging, outside in the cold, trying to read my book in torchlight.
In the night, I had what felt like, the beginnings of a panic attack. The tent felt as if it was closing in on my face; the space was too small and I couldn’t breathe. There was rustling outside and in the dark I was sure that the tent was falling on my face or some strange robber was trying to get in to take our things. I pushed aside the opening only to discover a wild, New Forest pony rummaging through the rubbish bag I’d left outside, and licking the top of the disposable barbecue we’d forgotten to dispose of. Relieved, Michael, kindly escorted me to the toilets and I calmed myself. Back in the tent, he said that he was struggling to sleep with his face pressed up the the edge of the tent (of course, I had insisted on sleeping on the side of the door) and therefore he suggested top and tailing. This was enough to cause the third set of tears to flow – we were supposed to be a young couple, desperately in love, curled up together under the stars. In reality, we were two irritable adults who were now going to sleep like 7 year-olds at a sleepover.
At 6am the next day, I was up and ready to leave. Whilst the surrounding yummys ate their perfect, poached breakfast, Michael and I ate brownies and Pepsi having run out of the acceptable middle-class food I’d packed three days ago. We packed away the tent, laughing as we chucked the homemade tent pegs on the ground and loaded the car back up. I had envisaged that on this final day, we might travel to some beautiful location in the New Forest and exlore. Or stop in Southampton on the way home in order to show Micheal where I had lived during University and before we had met. Instead, we decided to drive straight home (of course I got a puncture on the way and we had to try and change a tyre for the first time on the side of the motorway – just to round things off nicely).
Instagram, Pinterest, my friends portray camping to be a fun, joyous, romantic time where you are at one with the person you’re with and nature. The reality is: I hate camping. It is horrible. Friends have judged me for this admission. They judge me for being too high maintenance, for clinging too much to homely comforts, for not being flexible enough. But I cannot pretend to like it (which I’m sure is what they must be doing deep down!). Camping is madness. Why would you want to spend £250 (yes, this was an expensive campsite – I tried hard to pick one with at least some amenities, in a prime location. And it was August bank holiday weekend! Good choices Annie) on deprivation. Not having a televison, a mattress, an oven, running water, a toilet, electricity…a roof? I cannot understand it. Unless I find myself lost and isolated with no alternative but to sleep outside, I will not be camping again. You might call me a selfish princess (hell, I do too) but sleeping on the floor, outside when I have a perfectly comfortable home is not a choice I will make again.