Puddles, soggy tents and gas leaks: the joys of Covid-safe camping

Molly Blackall and Guardian readers
·7-min read

‘I was dreading it, but it was amazing and we’ve booked two more trips’

“We’re not natural campers, we normally just book a villa somewhere,” said Jen Chandler, 37, a doctor who lives in Monmouthshire with her husband and two daughters, Isobel, nine, and Harriet, seven. “But my husband and I are both doctors and have been very busy during lockdown, so we were desperate for a break and change of scene.”

The family had never camped before, but had planned to go to some festivals over the summer so had already purchased a tent. They booked a campsite in the Forest of Dean for two nights, and ordered “a load of random camping equipment”.

“We hadn’t had much time to prepare because work and been so busy,” Chandler said. “Once we pulled all the stuff out of the garage, I thought, this is never ever going to fit. We got a puppy just before lockdown, so he was on my knee. The wine was under my feet, the kids were sat on all the bedding and pillows, and the back of the car was full.”

Chandler admitted she had been “dreading” the trip, as rain was forecast and she was hesitant about having to set up the tent. However, the family had an “amazing” time.

“Putting the tent up was far easier that we thought, although it didn’t take long for the dog to chew through one of the guy ropes,” she said. “Seeing the kids having the time of their lives was amazing, they had so much freedom, and we had time to read books, catch up on the news, and chill out.”

The family have already booked two further trips. “I can’t see me giving up the villa just yet, but I can see us going camping for shorter breaks to get some time out,” Chandler said. “It forces you to unwind, and that’s really great.”

‘I returned from a gruelling hike to find my tent in a bog’

John had never been on a camping trip before but found it cheaper than a usual holiday, and said the Lake District was ‘gorgeous’.
John had never been on a camping trip before but found it cheaper than a usual holiday, and said the Lake District was ‘gorgeous’. Photograph: Stewart Smith/Alamy Stock Photo

Two weeks ago, John, 27, and a group of school friends headed for the Lake District for a camping trip to enjoy a ‘Covid safe’ holiday together.

“I was very apprehensive at first, but this is the only way I could see them,” he said. “This seemed like the safest way to maintain a distance but still share in the warmth of each other’s company.”

John, who lives in Portsmouth, had slept in tents during musical festivals, but had never been on a camping trip before, and was in for a rude awakening.

“We went on a hike up a nearby hill, and the path was steep and treacherous. I’ve been on walks before, and I’m not out of shape, but this was a different beast. Part way up, the conditions got fairly bad, and we had the choice to keep going or go back down the horrible path. We carried on and didn’t get an awful lot better,” John said.

“Apparently it wasn’t even a very big hill, one of the smallest in the Lake District,” he added.

When they returned, John’s tent had been soaked by a nearby river and the surrounding area became a bog.

“My friend saw the tent first and started crying with laughter. Me and my girlfriend were both drenched and miserable. We’d been holding on to the idea of a warm tent. We got in and salvaged what we could, mopped up and had to sleep in a damp tent. It was either that or drive six hours home into the night, so we thought we might as well just sleep in the puddle,” he said.

Despite this, John said he would go camping again.

“It’s not the sort of fun we’re used to in our normal lives, but it is good fun,” he said. “It’s cheaper than a usual holiday, and the Lake District is gorgeous, so really it’s not so bad.”

‘I bought 33 camping items – the only thing that didn’t come was the tent’

Kathryn’s camping plans are on hold until sold-out tents come back in stock.
Kathryn’s camping plans are on hold until sold-out tents come back in stock. Photograph: Matthew Ferris/Alamy Stock Photo

In the Midlands, 48-year-old Kathryn’s camping plans didn’t progress very far.

“On Saturday night, my husband and I, who are seasoned long haul travellers, made a rather impulsive decision to spend the best part of £1,000 on everything our little family would need to camp,” she said. “We’re both police detectives, so we did loads of research. We spent hours interviewing friends and family, and even had a spreadsheet.

“Debit card at the ready, we ordered everything from the tent to the spare pegs, the airbeds to the camping stove, the head torches to the she-wee, the sleeping bags to the rubber mallets.”

The family booked a campsite for the upcoming bank holiday and awaited their order. On Tuesday, they received an email from the store they had purchased the items from, saying that just one item was missing – the tent.

“It was totally frustrating, but really funny,” she said. “Everywhere else is sold out, I think due to the demand from coronavirus. We’ve already booked the campsite but still have no tent. I’m so cross I’m going to return all 32 of the other items.”

‘We normally love exciting holidays overseas, but we’ve fallen in love with camping’

Ellen and her boyfriend have fallen in love with camping after spending most of the pandemic lockdown apart.
Ellen and her boyfriend have fallen in love with camping after spending most of the pandemic lockdown apart. Photograph: Alamy

Ellen, 23, who works as an administrator at a care home recently went on her first camping trip with her boyfriend, and said the pair have “fallen in love” with camping.

“We decided to take the plunge and go, as the idea of a foreign holiday was out of the picture and having spent most of lockdown apart we wanted to have a weekend away together,” she said.

For a couple who “love an overseas adventure and a bit of luxury,” they have found an unlikely passion, and already rebooked for five weeks’ time.

“We decided a three-night trip would be a good starting point,” she said. “We also managed to pick the hottest weekend of the year, which apart from it being a bit sweaty in the tent was amazing. We kind of felt like we had all the gear and no idea but off we went. By the end we felt like pros.”

“We have absolutely fallen in love with camping, so much so we have decided to go again and are both so excited,” she added.

‘It was one disaster after another’

Richard Kenchington recently took his first camping trip with his pregnant wife and young child after “taking the plunge” and buying a camper van in November, but said it wasn’t quite the enchanting ‘van lifestyle’ he had bought into.

“It was one of those things we just decided. We were attracted by the lifestyle but we’d never tried it before, and jumped in feet first,” he said. “In theory it’s cheaper than foreign holidays, which currently are almost impossible.”

During his trip in the Isle of Wight, Kenchington and his family experienced a gas leak in the camper van, and a tent collapse, and ongoing battles to encourage their four-year-old to following physical distancing.

“The neighbours, in their much more expensive camper van, had to fix our tent when it collapsed. We came back and thought, we didn’t leave it like that, and the people next door told us they rescued it. The water bottle had gone everywhere and it was all wet,” he said. “You don’t expect that to happen, and have to tidy it all up with a four- year-old who wants to play. It did feel like one thing after another.”

Despite this, Kenchington is determined to try again.

“I don’t know if it’s because we enjoyed it, or because we bought the camper van and we have to use it. But we’re going to try again at the end of the month,” he said.