This Side of the Pond – May 24

By Sarah Pridgeon

When I saw that my hometown is attempting to “bring back camping” as a popular pastime this summer, I knew my outdoor enthusiast friends in Wyoming would get a kick out of their efforts. After all, in this part of the world, it’s considered rare to find a pizza-making workshop in the middle of the forest.

Yes, you read that right. The Secret Camping Weekend (which, I note, is heavily advertised and not very secret at all) is a traveling event that’s everything you don’t expect from a vacation in the glories of nature.

You will be able, for example, to take part in a group yoga class or learn how to make cocktails, neither of which I would describe as the mainstay of the camping experience. You can even wander a street food market, listen to live music, sit in the hot tub, play croquet or watch a movie on the outdoor cinema screen.

This newfangled way of camping is news to me, but then I realized as I read about this harebrained idea that I haven’t done much camping since I hit adulthood. It’s not that I don’t enjoy it – actually, I thought it was great fun as a kid and then a young adult.

Perhaps my favorite camping experiences were on the “adventure vacations” I spent several summers attending. We were introduced to kayaking, spelunking, raft building, rifle shooting (yes, even in England), archery and much more while staying in second-hand army tents or occasionally building our own shelters from tarpaulin and string.

If you’ve ever had to work on a practical project with me, I think you can guess whether or not those makeshift tents were still standing come the morning. We still enjoyed ourselves, even if the girls weren’t too keen on the lack of facilities.

As I hit my upper teens and headed into the “irritating little madam” phase of my development, I and my friends became nuisances for the instructors. Abseiling was no longer feasible in case one cracked a nail and I believe, at some point, one of my friends attempted a military assault course in a pair of high heels. It didn’t go well.

I can remember those poor instructors rolling their eyes and, with hindsight, I feel deeply sorry for them. I also regret that being seen in a cool pair of cut-off jeans and full eye makeup was more important to me than a bout of white water canoeing. The things you learn with age, eh?

I also partook of relatively traditional camping when I was coaxed into the Duke of Edinburgh award program, designed to challenge younglings. It was put together by the first man to climb Everest, so it was not a relaxing experience.

We were expected to volunteer (which introduced me to St. John’s Ambulance, a first aid group I stayed with for several years), improve at a sport (basketball, though I’m not sure I achieved the “improve” portion) and undertake an expedition, which was a self-planned hike through the countryside.

The highlight of our expedition was a friend of mine getting stuck up to her thighs in a bog we hadn’t noticed on the map and the rest of us failing to help because we were laughing too hard. It was all fun and games until we got to the campsite, where it turned out that the farmer who owned the field had no intention of letting us use the toilet, let alone allowing us to wash stinky bog from our feet in the nice, clean bathroom.

I also opted for camping trips of my own volition, including one notable occasion in Devon in which we attempted to fit five people, three tents and all our luggage in my tiny Ford Fiesta, which was then unable to ascend hills. Joining us for that weekend was a herd of ducks that patrolled the campground– much like our local turkeys, they were savvy about their food sources.

I nicknamed one mallard “the watchduck” when it took up position in front of my car and refused to stop guarding it for a full day. Meanwhile, we worked out that, if we measured the perimeter of the campground and timed the intervals between visits, we could figure out the average land speed of a duck.

I have yet to camp in this part of the world, as I don’t have a tent and the opportunity hasn’t presented itself, but I have spent some enjoyable time in a cabin in the Bighorns and we just accepted delivery of a camper for the whole family to enjoy this summer.

But I’ve never before thought of camping at a place that promises to bring an espresso martini to my tent, whatever one of those is, and I’ve never thought of a campsite as the obvious place to take a jewelry making class. I suppose things are different in a country that has less wildlife to observe and nothing to hunt – you have to keep the masses entertained somehow.

All in all, I can’t say I’m against the idea, even if I’d prefer to be observing chipmunk habitats. If it introduces the next generation to the joys of open skies, where’s the harm?