/ Travel & Leisure

UK camping – romantic idyll or wet washout?

Toasting marshmallows on open fire

Whatever your thoughts on camping, there’s a love affair blooming with Brits and their tents. But Rochelle Turner wonders why we don’t embrace the great outdoors in the same way as her native Canada.

In Canada, where I grew up, camping is nearly a national pastime. I spent many summers under canvas, going to sleep to the sound of the crackling campfire, my tummy full of s’mores (toasted marshmallos with melted chocolate between two Graham crackers – so good you want ‘some more’).

Campsites were usually large and single-purpose, closing down completely when the winter set in. The pitches were always separated from neighbours by trees to give privacy and huge communal log piles for fire wood and standing pipes for drinking water were never far away.

My first experience of British camping

So it was all a bit of a shock when I experienced camping in the UK for the first time a few years ago. My tent, pitched in an enormous field within sight of tens – if not hundreds – of others.

Not quite the idyllic vision of the near-nature experience I had remembered from my youth.

These sites do exist, especially in Scotland, but they are few and far between and tend to book up very quickly. I’ve since learned to compromise on privacy – it would be difficult to live in the UK if I didn’t. I won’t, however, compromise on a campfire.

Fresh from a week of clean Norfolk air and stale campfire smoke at the Breck Farm campsite just minutes from the coast, I returned to London with news that in 2009, camping overtook staying in B&Bs as a leisure pursuit for the first time in the UK.

Canvas beats bricks in my book

Camping is certainly not for everyone. My husband doesn’t completely understand the point of spending the time and effort to put a tent up when pre-erected accommodation is readily available.

That may be true, but it doesn’t come at £14 a night, nor with the freedom to run around, swing on rope swings or eat food cooked in the (nearly) great outdoors.


I know what you mean… We have a camper van and do a lot of camping, but it does often feel a lot more ‘organised’ here than in some other countries.

I travelled around New Zealand a few years ago in a camper van and we found so many great campsites – it’s such a big deal to them over there. They have everything ranging from campsites on private beaches where you can have open fires to government-subsidised sites, which are very basic but cheap and ‘back to nature’. I’m sure we have similar sites in the UK but they are hard to find!

‘Free camping’ (where you just pitch up anywhere and camp) is also quite accepted over there – again, I’ve done this a couple of times in the UK but it’s generally quite frowned upon. Shame.

I’ve only just seen this conversation –

I’ve loved camping all my life – As a “boy scout” (up to the age of 50) it was usual for me to be allowed to camp virtually anywhere – especially in forests. but I always asked permission first Up until 18 when I left school – I spent every weekend I could and the long vacations under canvas a year – often catching my own food. Stood me in good stead in the services – After then I used to take a troop camping – once or twice children from my school – everybody loved it – had a few ‘adventures’

I used to sneer at “camper vans” ! 🙂 It was either under canvas – or backwoods style (lean to branches covered in leaves – inside filled with fern or bracken) and hiking . The wife wasn’t as keen and the kids had a different idea of a “holiday”! In recent times I’ve weakened and used small commercial sites in Wales and Scotland under canvas with my dogs – my dogs are trained for under canvas – (they stay in the tent at night) walking in clover leaf 10 mile circles with them to explore the country side. The number of creatures spotted during the hikes is stupendous! 🙂

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9 February 2013

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