We all fancy it but few complete the challenge of camping out every month of the year! We follow Outwell reporter, Kathryn Whelan, as she braves sun, wind, rain, cold and hangovers during her great UK camping adventure.
When my friend asked me to go on a girls’ night out in January, I jumped at the chance. Inspired by a mutual friend of ours, Vicky decided she wanted to camp every month for a year: “I realise that I’ll have to do most of the first camps on my own,” she said. “Don’t worry” I replied, “I’ll come with you.” How was I to know she actually meant it?
We then persuaded another of friend, Amanda, that this was a good idea so, with the calls of ‘You’re mad’ echoing in our ears, we packed our gear into the boot of the car and our 12 months of camping began.
Our first camp of the year took place at a campsite attached to The Halfway House Inn near Bridgnorth. The weather was set to be very cold – well, it was January after all – so we decided that this might be the best course of action. It might be cold outside, but the pub is always warm − especially when it has a roaring fire in the bar. We took lots of precautions to help insulate against the cold and we had about a million carpets between us. Ok, maybe a little exaggeration, but we did put two or three carpets down to help stop the cold seeping in from the ground and we did have a couple of heaters and plenty of warm clothing and bedding.
Once we were pitched up we drove into Bridgnorth where we had a browse around the market and shops before heading to a pub for some lunch – did I mention it was cold outside? Afterwards, we had another stroll around the town before heading back to the tent.
We’d booked dinner in the pub as we thought it would be far too cold to cook outside – nothing at all to do with us being far too lazy to cook and wash up afterwards, honest! The landlord very kindly boiled a kettle so that we could fill up hot water bottles to take back to the tent.
We slept surprisingly well and, much to the surprise of everyone that knew us, we survived our night in the freezing temperatures. The frost hadn’t actually been as severe as we were expecting and when we opened up the tent we were pleasantly surprised to see the sun shining.
After breakfast, we went for a short walk in the surrounding fields before returning to strike camp. Although it was early January, the sun was still shining and it felt pleasantly warm for the time of year, we even sat on our chairs for a break whilst waiting for the tent to air a little − without our coats on! Yes, it’s fair to say that we had enjoyed our first camp of the year, and we couldn’t wait until our next adventure.
Kathryn Whelan continues her personal challenge to camp at least once in every month of the year.
February is school half term month and it was unusually mild so we decided that we would take the children with us. We chose Sytch Caravan and Camping near Much Wenlock, another great choice of sites as there was plenty of space for the boys to run around and it was just a short walk along a footpath to the town. After a short walk there and back, we went back to the tent and made dinner. After about an hour of trying to cook a spaghetti Bolognese and telling ourselves that the gas wasn’t as efficient as usual because of the cold temperatures, we eventually realised that in fact, the gas had pretty much run out… oops! Fortunately, we had a spare and within a few minutes of changing the bottle, dinner was served.
The next day was Shrove Tuesday and as the weather was quite pleasant (for February) we made pancakes for breakfast. We took a walk into Much Wenlock to explore before returning to the site. Because we expected bad weather I had taken a halogen oven just in case we couldn’t cook outside so that evening the boys had pizza whilst we had chilli with cheesy nachos.
Sadly, the day came to strike camp and along with it came the rain… torrential rain. We were soaked through to the skin, despite wearing good waterproof clothes, and the tent had pools of water on it when we dropped it down. Anyone that has packed up in such conditions knows just how heavy and big tents are when they’re so wet so we just rolled it up and put it in the boot of the car.
We always knew that we would not manage to do a whole year where the three of us could camp together every month due to family commitments, etc and March proved to be the first such month. Sadly, Vicky was unable to join us at our chosen camp of the month, but she did camp earlier in the month to ensure she didn’t miss a month. So, Amanda and I went to Low Farm in Lincolnshire to join a group of friends for our annual get together.
This camp involved the usual hundred mile trek through fields (maybe not a hundred miles, but it certainly felt like it at the time). The only thing that made it bearable was the scattering of pubs that we could call into on the way. Of course this wasn’t really a pub crawl; we just needed to rest our weary legs.
Although it wasn’t especially cold, the rain was lashing and the wind was blowing a gale. Thankfully the rain subsided not long after we set out but the wind continued for some time and we did worry that we’d see our tents flying above us at some point. We were relieved to find they had stood up to the gales well. That evening we went to the local village pub for a fish and chip supper so once again we were spared the ordeal of having to try cooking in bad weather.
April saw us all together again. Our chosen destination for this camp was Hopley’s near Bewdley. After pitching up on arrival, we had some dinner, sat around chatting for a while and then settled down for a relatively early night. The next morning we awoke to glorious weather and although there was still a slight chill in the air, it was typically fairly warm spring sunshine.
We walked into Bewdley; it’s all downhill on the way there so it wasn’t too arduous. We then browsed round the shops and walked along the river before going for a picnic in the park. Whilst the adults relaxed in the sunshine, the kids did what kids do best – climb trees and pretended to fish in the pond using a branch that they’d found on the floor.
Then it was time to face the walk back up to the campsite. Fortunately for us, there was a pub halfway up.
Dinner tonight was a bit of an experiment for me as it was the first time I used my new Cobb to cook chicken with jacket potatoes. I was surprised at how leisurely this made cooking and it became an essential piece of kit for my subsequent family camping trips.
Again, family and work commitments made it difficult for us all to get together for a May camp, so whilst Vicky camped a couple of times in Wales and Devon, Amanda and I went to Upper Brockhurst Farm near Shifnal. This site is a certificated site and as such is very basic but the owners are lovely and the site is so peaceful and has such lovely surroundings that you can’t help but fall in love with it. By now I’m sure you realise that we always like to take in a long walk, usually with a pub or two involved, and this camp was no exception. Our walk of choice this time was along the canal towpath running from Wheaton Aston to Brewood. This made a nice change from the usual fields or town footpaths but we had definitely earned the rather delicious meal on our return.
A trip to Greenhill Leisure Park in Oxfordshire was the June venue. This was a slightly bigger camp with other friends and kids joining us. The great thing about camping is that the kids get to do things that they might otherwise not get the opportunity to do and this site has its own fishing pools; Vicky had taken some fishing tackle with her so on this occasion and they all had a turn at catching a fish.
But this trip also brought with it a stark reminder as to why we should never cook inside a tent (and why we choose to go to the pub in inclement weather). One of our party had started to prepare dinner and when she turned on the stove instead of the flame coming from the burner it actually burned along the rubber hose! Thankfully, she was cooking outside − the outcome could have been very different had she been attempting to cook inside her tent.
July gave us another opportunity to take the children fishing, this time at Pillaton Hall Farm in Staffordshire. The weather was fair so again, the pubs were abandoned for proper home cooked food. A meal with a difference this time though, Amanda took a slow cooker and made slow cooked barbecue pulled pork. This was a huge hit with the kids and has become a firm favourite with my own family since.
I can’t really let July go by without mentioning that our 12 months of camping had by now made Amanda a little obsessed and when told that she had to take a work trip to Harrogate, she decided to forego the chance to stay in a nice, comfortable hotel room and instead, took a small tent and had her overnight stay in a campsite near to where her meeting was being held! That’s dedication…
Whilst Vicky and I took our usual family summer camping holidays, Amanda once again tried something new and went to her first ever festival. The festival of choice was the Upton Festival where she also had to camp without electric. Now, I know that a lot of you will be of the opinion that you’re not properly camping if you have electricity, but we’re all firmly in the EH-U only brigade. This meant that she had to pay a little bit more attention to what she took to ensure she had battery operated lights, gas cookers and most importantly, plenty of warm bedding and clothing, just in case. The weekend proved to be a success and festivals are now right up there on the ‘to do’ list for future years.
Sadly, none of us could actually manage to get together for the whole of September so, fresh from her successful August festival, Amanda went straight off to another one − this time the Bo Peep Cider Festival. Not quite as successful this time round as she managed to pitch in the wrong place and was told she had to move the tent after she’d pitched it. Still, the rain held off until she’d pitched in the proper place and the rest of the weekend made up for it.
Vicky made a repeat visit to Hopley’s so that the boys could go fishing again. It’s safe to say they’re hooked (see what I did there?!).
And my September trip was a repeat visit to Pillaton with a friend who had never camped before. Having seen countless photographs and heard hundreds of stories from my trips, she had decided that she wanted to give it a go with her son too. I’m always willing to show someone the ropes (groan…)
With the year fast disappearing before our very eyes, we knew that the weather was going to start to be more unpredictable and so for the last few camps of the year we made the decision to find sites attached to pubs again. Of course we blamed Julie’s near disaster with her stove back in June for our unwillingness to cook. We found a lovely little site at a pub called The Squirrel in Alveley, Shropshire. The walk to the nearby village was very pleasant and had we been there for more time, we were in easy reach of the Severn Valley Country Park as well as the railway. It would make a great base for exploring that area and the food at the pub was very good.
We managed to find another great pub with a site for our penultimate camp of the year. This time it was the Marlbank Inn in the Malverns. Unlike most pub sites, the facilities here are available 24 hours a day and I must say, they were really rather nice. Once again the food was pretty amazing. And with a backdrop of the Malvern Hills, you can find lots of great walks to go on. The pretty village of Upton on Severn is only about ten minutes away by car and this proved to be a lovely place to go to while away a few hours on the Saturday afternoon before returning for dinner.
Shortly after starting our quest to camp every month of the year, we decided to have our very last camp where we began. Because it was December, we also decided to have our very own camping Christmas party − although we had our Christmas dinner cooked for us on this occasion at the pub. I could easily get used to not having to cook Christmas dinner! After pitching our tent and setting it up, we got out the decorations… well, it was Christmas after all. The tent looked very festive and we even went Christmas shopping at the market in Bridgnorth, taking in the lights and atmosphere making our final weekend one that we will definitely remember.
Our final breakfast of the camping year, followed by the walk we had done back in January, was a bitter sweet kind of affair. Both absolutely lovely, but we were all very sad that it marked the end of a fabulous year of camping. It’s safe to say now that for us, our camping season will never be confined to the summer months and we can’t wait to get out there again this year!