Contemporary Camping Virgin
by Chartreuse Green 23/9/2013 15.39
As for many Brits of my demographic, the 'c' word was coloured, or rather washed out, by early memories of cold, damp and other forms of discomfort.
I became a convert over the months of a developing relationship and meeting my partner's best, and my new, friends. The three are ardent campers and reassured me constantly that 'camping has changed'. I was presented with photographic evidence of the beautiful orange and blue glow of my partner's small tent against their four-meter diameter bell tent, a miniature circus pavilion big enough for their three greyhounds, beds, furniture and cushions. Reports of luxurious, well appointed shower blocks reached my ears from other friends and I signed up for an impromptu trip Abroad.
We arrived at our alpine campsite after dark. In a pitch near a lamp, with the aid of a book-light I was guided through the how-to of setting up the Proaction three-man tent. Our inflatable mattress and double sleeping bag in one was soon installed and we were promptly and snugly in it. We slept until woken by the sun and warmth the next day. The flat-folding 4-seater picnic table was easily put up and breakfast, prepared on the gas cylinder powered hob, only minutes away.
When we made camp for only my second time and in the dark by book-light again, we had the bed inflated and in an erected tent (yes, camping provides ample opportunity for innuendo) in about 15 minutes. Within 30 we had installed ourselves with the kettle on. It really was that simple.
After a chilly night we acquired a blanket and a couple of Indian throws. My partner hung Turkish lanterns around the tent and sitting one night at the entrance looking up at the stars it was divine.
To me it felt luxurious. However, my partner considered a larger tent might be desirable. The tent is made up of a bedroom and a porch which did admittedly become somewhat damp from our entry and egress during the rain. We had to keep our clothes in the car which meant taking advantage of the sunny days to de-damp them. The roof was so low that getting in and out took some agility.
An excursion to Bern involved an exhaustive search for a campsite, but following signs found a car park, a small building and a barrier. Having arrived after hours we left a polite note under the reception door, then toting tent and mattress headed off down a path in search of other tents. Amongst the wall-to-wall caravans and mobile homes we found a small field with three tents looming vaguely in the gloom. By the light of a street lamp my partner filled the mattress on lung power and I raised the tent. After a long day and journey into and around Switzerland we passed out gratefully.
The campsite was neat and green for near the centre of town area. The shower block was clean and comfortably lit and heated. The next morning I reported to reception where the staff spoke English and the lady there was able to guide me through a typically Swiss exhaustive form asking for all but but the length of my shoelaces. Like many Swiss goods and services, it didn't come cheap: 40 Euros for a small tent, car parking, two adults and something else I've yet to decipher, but it did give us a safe haven for the night and spotless facilities.
We ate a lot of cold meats, cheese and French bread, and enjoyed the romantic patter and pounding of a stormy night as the tent held against the downpour and the winds. For the first time in my life my skin turned brown rather than a lightly boiled pink.
On the way back to the UK we stopped off in the picturesque town of Dijon, which tempts at least one day's exploration. The campsite there made me appreciate what had been our temporary home in Bourg-St-Maurice. We pitched on a verge which we later deduced had been left unoccupied by humans because a number of ravenous mosquitoes had already staked a claim and responded to our invasion with enthusiasm. As a nearby river ran the other side of the chain-link fence behind us this may have been expected. As for the shower block all I can say that personal contact with the tiles was best avoided. However, it was the location of our new set up record: 13 minutes tent and mattress.
The town where we'd spent most of our stay stayed invited a second trip, this time on business (writing and aerial photography) . After extensive research and careful consideration we chose the Vango Beta 450xl for our tent size upgrade. A four man tent with a bedroom a living room/ porch, one door has a flyscreen so you can open the door, let the fresh air in and keep unwanted wildlife out. At a height of 5' 5" I was making a small cupola in the roof whenever standing up straight but it does mean you only have to crouch slightly rather than crawl to enter and exit. I am informed that Vango tents are distinguished by the inclusion of TBS. Before you ask if it's treatable, TBS stands for Tension Band System, a number of straps that can be used to join strategic points of the tent to provide a sturdy frame that can withstand high winds. We were longing to try it out but the kindly French summer wasn't up to presenting us with a gale.
Thanks to our gas cylinder powered hob, a mini barbecue we found in Aldi for the princely sum of £7 and my partner's chef skills, we enjoyed a hot meal every day. We had electricity from a point behind our pitch, water from a pump by a neighbouring plot, wifi, and hot showers with power points for hair dryers and the like. This was a far cry from roughing it. We took two solar powered lamps from Ikea. During the day place the small square panels outside and at night you have free-ranging light source courtesy of Ikea and our closest star. The night's we weren't out networking, after dinner we retreated to bed and watched the days' filming film and video contents of one of the laptops.
By the end of three weeks I had entered the hard core camping bracket especially as one day the shower curtains disappeared from our block which the next day shut all together, our repose was subsequently enlivened by maintenance of the grounds all of which heralded the end of the season, although the site closes only in May. The nights were becoming too cold to sleep and having completed our work we packed up and hammered it through France to Dover boat.
When I boarded the boat I felt a strange sensation in my feet. The vessel was still so it had to be the flooring. After three weeks mostly on grass I'd become unused to carpet.
Thanks to my partner's experience we were well equipped and thanks to the campsite well provided for with amenities. With a barbecue you can gather wood from the trees in and around the campsite and use that for fuel but avoid pine if you're cooking directly on the grill as the fumes will do your health no favours. We used a frying pan and a kettle.
At peak season it wasn't cheap and arguably we may have been able to hire an apartment for a little more than we paid, but the experience was worth it. Waking up in baking sun, the smell of pine, soft grass underfoot and the dazzling ring of the mountains for our wall art, the river at the edge of the campsite later sang us to sleep. A few breadcrumbs to a pair of sparrows who called 'grub up' to their flock soon had our feet surrounded by two dozen French birds. Yes, I would recommend camping.
Advice from a camping noob who feels the cold:
- Do, as we intend to next year take a thick blanket, take a Coleman Black Cat heater and a solar powered fan, so you're comfortable regardless of the temperature.
- Do take trackies with hoodie to sleep in.
- Take a picnic blanket to put inside the tent (and another for the door mat). It's easy to pick up and shake outside to dislodge grass, dust and crumbs.
Look into solar chargers
- Do look into solar chargers. After the initial outlay it's free electricity and independent of the grid
Above all, if possible, do go with an experienced camper who likes creature comforts, and you too will become a convert to contemporary camping.
Photocredit: Aerial photo of tent by Flyclopsfilming