Air Bed or SIM?

11 Apr

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Let’s face it a good night’s sleep is the single most important element of a successful camping trip.  With a full night’s comfy sleep under your belt you can cope with anything the day throws at you.

To achieve this you will require warmth, a pillow to suit your requirements, and of course a comfortable surface to lay your weary bones upon.  So how do you choose?  Air bed or SIM?

Air bed

Sounds good doesn’t it.  A bed of air. Lovely.  Sea sickness mat with deflating tendency – less good.  I’ve given it away haven’t I?  I was going to try to be balanced and critical but I hate air beds.

Firstly, they take ages to inflate.  Yes, I know you can get electric pumps but they make a hideous noise and are so easily forgotten.

Next, I’m a bit hazy on the physics because I thought air was insulating, but air beds are cold.  Brrrr.  I’m told putting a picnic blanket underneath helps with this but I can’t comment on the effectiveness as I’ve never tried.

Wobblyness – if you’ve ever slept on an air bed this needs no more explaining.  Wibbly, wobbly, bleugh.

Finally, they deflate.  It beats me why with all the wonders of modern technology this particular issue hasn’t been solved but I have never, ever slept on an air bed that didn’t deflate during the night. Some a little, some a lot.

To sum up I had the most uncomfortable camping sleep of my entire life sleeping on an air bed.  I was freezing cold and ended up literally on the floor.  The next day we went and bought a couple of SIMS and life was changed.

SIM

Self Inflating Mat.  Yep, self inflating.  Unplug the stopper, roll it out and it actually sucks air into itself.  I know amazing isn’t it.  And you wind up with not just air, but a nice foam mat too.  These things come in a hundred different varieties and you get what you pay for.  Check out an outdoors company like Cotswold Outdoor
for a look at a good range. Needless to say the thicker your mat the more comfy it will be but also the bulkier it will be. If you sleep on your back you may get away with a thinner mat but if you sleep on your side get a thicker one.

The cons. It is possible to slide off your mat in your sleep, some mats have less slidy material than others.  Also they are relatively expensive, depending on which one you choose.  However, if you go the air bed route you are likely to end up buying several as they puncture or you go on a never-ending search for one that doesn’t deflate.

So there it is my completely unbiased look at your family camping sleeping options.  The BBC would be proud.

Basically, get a SIM (cheap ones for the kids and plush ones for yourselves).

NB. This is a sponsored post, but I would have written it anyway….

When you can’t camp…

17 Mar Brean Down

Wow! It has been pretty glorious the last couple of weekends hasn’t it?  The camping itch has been getting hard to ignore. But lets face it is only March, and though we’ve had some warm days, nights are still pretty chilly. Although we love camping we aren’t all that hardcore.  The campervan does not have heating and even if it did, I don’t generally like sitting around in it in the evenings.  So whilst we have been very tempted we haven’t quite committed to the start of the camping season yet.  So, in order to calm the itch a little we have been taking the Bongo out on the weekend for one day adventures.

Last week we visited Brean Down.  Brean is on the Somerset Coast just along from Weston Supermare.  The sandy beach is (apparently) the second longest stretch of sand in Europe!  The reason it is not so well known a one might expect is that it has an absolutely massive tidal range; when the tide it exposes large mud flats which make it impossible to safely get near the water. However, it was still pretty stunning and the children were happy to splash around in rock pool and make things in the sand. It is also possible to park on the beach and many a Somerset child has had their first experience steering a car sitting on their Dad’s lap on the beach at Brean.

However, my favourite thing about this beach is the long peninsula of land that juts far out into the channel.  On top is that thick, springy, mossy grass you always get in high up, exposed places.  Wind swept trees, gorse and rabbit holes.  The views to each side and across to Wales on a clear day are spectacular.   Once I’d persuaded them to climb the steps to the top, my children could hardly contain their exhilaration: laughter, hand stands and rolling down hills.

We could of course have done this in the car and not taken the campervan but somehow being in the campervan puts us all in a different frame of mind.  All the associations of holidays and explorations take hold and we all relax.

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Campsite Review – Penrose Campsite, Porthleven, The Lizard, Cornwall.

3 Feb

Where:  Penrose Campsite, Porthleven, West Cornwall.

How much: £5 per adult/ £2.50 per child NB: Open July and August only!

Campfires: Yes, please use previuosly burnt fire circles. There are plenty.

Fire Wood:  Reconstituted fire logs sold on site.  Personally prefer to get some real wood, but a perfectly acceptable alternative and probably more environmentally friendly.

Facilities:  Toilets, showers and washing up sinks all in block in first field.  Well maintained but basic.

ImageI choose this campsite as part of my never ending endeavour to find campfire camspites within walking distance of a beach.  It is true that you can walk to Porthleven beach from Penrose, but it is a bit of a walk and the way back is extremely steep.  However, the campsites does offer lots of space in three large fields. One of which also provides fabulous views over the sea.  As always we were seduced by the views and paid the price in terms of windiness and a fair trek to the toilets.  We would probably do the same again though!

Please note Porthleven is a good surfing beach, but can be a bit rough for a young family and the beach towards Loe Bar is treacherous, swimming is not recommended here.  However, Praa Sands, a lovely family friendly beach, is nearby. Also check out Dollar Cove and, my favourite, Kynance Cove.

Porthleven is a really beautiful harbour village with some lovely shops (including as small supermarket and a post office) and a good selection of restaurants, pubs and cafes. I can especially recommend Kota Kai with spectacular views over the harbour, a great children’s play room and a very lovely Thai inspired menu.

The campsite also lies right next to the Penrose Estate, a National Trust parkland including access to the large lake Looe Pool.  Well worth an explore, especially if things are a bit windy on the coastal side. Access is free, there is also a NT house with, of course, a cafe!

Penrose Estate

Penrose Estate, Loe Pool in the distance.

The facilites are basic but kept clean and both the shower and toilet cubicles have lots of space.  The showers have plentiful hot water and there is a good number of them. There is also a seperate shower area for cleaning wetsuits.

Penrose Campsite

One of  the shower/toilet blocks.

Each evening the friendly owner comes around to collect payment, apart from this there is no management around.  The site had a lovely genuine feel, offering all that a basic camper could require plus lots of space and beautiful views over the sea.  All this plus the very reasonable price make it a spot very well worth visiting. Even large family groups can happily settle into their own corner of a field without seriouly impacting the peaceful feel of the site. However, do be aware of the possibility of strong winds and do check in advance that she has space as she takes care not to overcrowd.

Penrose Campsite

Ahhh! Lovely!

Five things I wish someone would invent for campers.

1 Feb

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1. A way to go for a wee in the middle of the night without unzipping the sleeping bag.

2. A tent that is properly blacked out without causing overheating.

3. A way of stopping the campfire smoke from following you even when you move to the spot that has been smoke free all evening.

4. An invisible boundary that prevents other campers from pitching too close to you.

5. A genuinely comfortable, affordable bed.

Almost every camping trip is accompanied by discussions about how we would make our camping life a little bit easier. The going to the toilet in the night thing is always number one for me. At home I easily sleep the night without needing a to visit the toilet. However, in a tent , my bladder’s capacity apparently shrinks to the size of an egg cup. Tell me it isn’t just me?

I fear this problem is pretty much unsolvable without resorting to an adult size nappy which is definitely a step too far. But I reckon some of the others are possible.  Are you listening clever, designer types?

How about you? What is your camping bug bear?

Planning

4 Jan

The days are lengthening , or so it is rumoured, hard to tell amidst the mid-winter storms. We are on the way towards a new season of camping adventures.  Visitor numbers to my blog always leap on New Year’s Day as thoughts turn towards holidays.  I am no exception. Planning for the season’s camping is a many layered thing.

First comes the yearning. Daydreams and remembering of those isolated moments of perfect tranquility in some beautiful corner of British countryside. Sparkling, tumbling, susurrating streams. Black skies wheeling with stars. The hot glow of the fire.  The absorbed play of the children knee deep in nature.

Next the wide world of possibilities. So many places still to visit, so many to return to.  Woods to discover, beaches to roam, streams to paddle and dam.

So we come to some definite areas of interest. Wales is practically on our doorstep yet somehow we didn’t even cross the border last year. Something to be rectified this year. I plan to make our way to Pembrokeshire. I have found the good campsites are often booked up in Pembrokeshire so I may have to forsake my usual method of waiting for a weekend of good weather and book ahead instead. On my list for Pembrokeshire are Celtic Camping , Spring Meadow Farm Campsite, Trellyn Woodland Camping, Ty Parke Farm Campsite. By no means an exhaustive list but enough to be going on with. Each allowing campfires and their own special slice of glorious welsh countryside.

The Lake District is also high on my list of places to visit. We used to live in York and were able to nip with relative ease over to the Lake District for a delicious weekend camping amongst soul stirring scenery. Since moving south and having the children we have not returned. Surely this will be the year. I have had some difficulty in locating the kind of campsites I like: campfires, space and allowing camper vans. Fisherground Campsite, Grizedale Camping Site (No camper vans but I love Grizedale) Gill Head Farm are contenders. There are lots of other great spots but few allowing campfires. An interesting alternative is the Private Camping Company who have agreements with landowners to let exclusive groups of campers camp in certain spots. At least one with direct access to lake shores. They provide pop up camping facilities and campfires for your group. Rather fabulous.

Exmoor is a firm favourite. The wonderful sheltered, wood fringed beaches of Lee Bay and Woody Bay plus the verdant valleys and rushing rivers to be found all around in stunning contrast to the the wide, wild spaces of the moors. (See it made me come over all alliterative.) Caffyns Farm, Doone Valley and Cloud Farm (not at busy times!), Westermill Farm or Pool Bridge – so many great Exmoor campsites to choose from. However, we may have to forsake Exmoor in favour of the unexplored lands of Dartmoor less campsites but Runnage Farm looks great and Westford Farm ticks many of my boxes too.

Finally, the local campsites that I love to visit including the huge, peaceful, nature rich lands of Thistledown Farm, Gloucestershire. One of the few places I return to every year. Wookey Farm a recent discovery, certainly worth a revisit. Perhaps Rocks East Woodland only 15 minutes from my home and not visited for several years.

As you will see I will either have an extremely full camping season or perhaps have to enter the final stage of planning. The whittling down. The hardest bit.

‘Winterising’ your Bongo

10 Nov

I was talking to a lovely American lady the other day about preparing her garden for winter. She called this ‘winterising’, with a lovely midwest drawl .  Although I’d never heard the word before I immediately grasped it’s meaning and I’m guessing you will too.

Apologies to any language purists out there but I do fully believe in the richness of our changing, alive language and so I am embracing the term ‘Winterising’.  Try it out loud – with the drawl.

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Winterising your Bongo

1. Damp is not your friend.

Mould in the AFT (Auto Free Top) is a common issue in Bongos. So what can you do about it?

  • At the end of the season (and during the season if you can) give the inside of the AFT a thorough clean.  Try using clove oil (which has antifungal properties) as alternative to hard core antifungal cleaners. After all people will be sleeping up there.
  • Or you can make your own, I suggest using cat litter in tights like this. Use a claybased, non scented cat litter. Which ever you do make sure you place a few bags around in the roof.
  • Think about air circulation.  We remove the roof panels to let air circulate during the winter and if there is a delightful, fresh dry autumn day and you have the chance put the roof up that would be great too.

2. Salt is your most fiendish enemy.

As I have mentioned before Bongos are made for the Japanese market, they were not built for European road conditions.  The Japanese do not use salt on their roads which makes Bongo’s very vulnerable to the damage from salt used on British roads in winter.

  • It is really, really, really important to make sure your Bongo has been undersealed and waxolyed. This should ideally be done by a garage but the determined tinkerer could do it themselves.  Just make sure a thorough job is done, especially in trouble prone areas like wheel arches.
  • The underseal will protect your van from the vagaries of the british weather and the corrosive horror of salt.  Bongo’s have a bit if a reputation for suffering from rust.  The problem usually arises because owners have not applied and maintained their underseal.
  • Even with this protection we avoid using the Bongo in the depths of winter as much as possible.   If this isn’t an option for you I would try to give the underside a good hose down if you have a period of heavy road salting.Better safe than sorry.

3. Store your gear

  • If you usually store all your camping gear in the van then now is a good time to empty it out. Check through your gear. Clean, mend and store it away somewhere dry and away from mice.
  • Give the van a really good clean inside all ready for next season’s camping. Lovely.

Now things are all ready for next season better start researching your trips for next year.  Have a look at this useful map for some more inspiration!

Project Wild Thing

5 Nov

I first heard of Project Wild Thing a few months ago on Twitter. My first reaction was ‘They stole my name!’ because I co-founded an outdoor playgroup a few years ago with the name ‘Wild Things’ (If you are interested have a look here to see what kind of things we get up to.)

My righteous indignation is of course unfounded for two reasons. Firstly,  we blatantly stole the name from the celebrated and  brilliant book ‘Where the Wild Things Are‘ by Maurice Sendak and, secondly, Project Wild Thing is about all the reasons that we first started our group.

I went to see a screening of the documentary ‘Project Wild Thing’ last week.  If you haven’t seen it, the basic premise is that the producer David Bond is the ‘Marketing Director for Nature’.  He talks about facing the commercialisation of childhood (and of all out lives) head on. He proposes that we use the very tools that have diverted us from the great outdoors to re-introduce us and our children to nature and all its glory. He asks how can we reconnect our lives with nature, whilst still accepting the change that has been wrought in our lives by the pervading presence of technology.  His solution is the project itself, by drawing attention to the issue and creating debate perhaps people will give more serious thought to getting their children outside.

Kicking off the project we are encouraged to make a pledge to swap screen time for ‘wild time’.  Just half an hour a day could have a huge impact.  Project Wild Thing creates a community to share ideas for things to do outdoors and access them with the ‘Wild Time’ App.  Clever stuff.

Of course for me the ultimate way to enjoy ‘wild time’ is camping.  You might call it a full immersion technique.  My children feel very comfortable being outside and they have discovered both for themselves and through us, a myriad of fun activities that can be enjoyed outside.  However, in the winter months it does become harder to keep that contact going.

I love going for walks in the countryside, my oldest daughter is beginning to get as much pleasure from walks as I do but the youngest is still unconvinced. Geocaching helps but still it may be that walking just isn’t for her. She has a huge creative streak so perhaps a hobby that takes her outside such as  painting or photography will eventually be her thing.  For now I make sure we walk to and from school as often as we can, even if it is raining.  We go blackberry picking in autumn, we visit beautiful woods and search out new and unusual places to visit.  We  borrow the neighbours dog for a walk.  We use the car as little as possible and we try to limit screen time. But it isn’t always easy.

I want my children to feel their connection to the world around them; to value their world and to have a sense of perspective about their lives.  I do believe that spending time outside as a child can develop an ability to enjoy solitude and access a state of mind that enhances mental health and well being – happiness!

It is a really important part of childhood and if Project Wild Thing can raise awareness and encourage us to make that extra effort it is indeed a very good thing.

Uniqlo and getting stuff for free.

15 Oct

When I started this blog it wasn’t my intention or even my expectation that I would start getting ‘stuff for free’.  To be honest I never really imagined I’d have enough readership to warrant attracting PR chaps and chapesses to give me products to review. However, as time went by and it turned out people shared my camping obsession and maybe even found it a tiny bit useful, I did start getting a few contacts.  I have turned a few down, I am careful only to review stuff I genuinely think is good quality, and of interest to people who are into camping.

So anyway to the crux of the matter – I was recently contacted by a friendly representative from Uniqlo asking if I would review one of their ‘Ultra Light Down Jacket‘.  I rather like Uniqlo as a brand and this review came with an added opportunity for readers so I said ‘yes’ with no hesitation.

This is the coat I was sent

WOMEN Ultra Light Down Parka

Nice eh!  And, I feel like a bit of a div for saying it, but really, it really, really is ‘Ultra Light’ it is like wearing air encased in silky fabric.  Myself and my children have been stroking it a lot.

It is warm – not ski slope warm, but brisk autumn morning warm easily and layered with a warm jumper or fleece is definitely going to take me through all but the very bitterest  days of winter (when the ski jacket will come out).

The other super plus and what really does make it useful for campers is the incredibly tiny stuff bag that it can be contained in.  Just imagine a coat no bigger than a pac a mac, but all warm, soft and lovely.  The perfect extra layer on our not so tropical summer evenings on the campsite! It will definitely be accompanying me on future camping trips.

There are several different styles too: full length, gilet, with or without hood for both men and women!

And the final hook is that if you were to purchase yourself one of these ‘Ultra Light Down’ jackets and then take a picture of yourself wearing it and then post it on twitter with the hashtag #ULD you may just win yourself  £300 to spend at Uniqlo.  Not a bad added bonus.  Competition closes on the 20th so get your skates on!

Campsite Review: Britchcombe Farm, Uffington, Oxfordshire.

11 Oct

Where: Britchcombe Farm, Uffington, Oxfordshire, SN7 7QJ

How much: £7 per adult (age 15 and upwards) , £3.50 per child per night, Under 5′s stay free.

Fires: Yes, use ash pits that have been used before.

Logs: For sale £5 per bag with kindling – (a bit stern about not bringing your own wood!)

Facilities:  Mobile toilets in each field, small toilet,shower and washing up block at main house. Also a Tea room!

Dogs: Permitted under control.

The review:

This campsite offers basic camping set across several large individual fields in a very pretty location, close to the mystical Uffington White Horse and the ancient Ridgeway.

The site underwent a surge in popularity around 6 years ago when it appeared in a Guardian guide to campsites and it seems that has not significantly abated.

I visited on a warm September weekend and the site was bustling.  Booking is necessary! Its convenient location, not far from the M4 and West and North London,  in an  area that is fairly low on good rustic campsites which means that it will be busy at peak times.

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However, it has retained its wild camping roots  There are many good views to be had in the various meadows and campfires blaze merrily each evening.  The mobile toilets are plentiful though never my favourite form of toilet facilities they do the job.  ‘Proper’ toilets are available in the block next to the main house.

On site is a lovely tea garden, I did not try them but the cream teas are reputedly delicious.  The owner was friendly but a little stern about bringing your own wood to burn which I don’t fully understand as I have not come across these terms before, but is a small issue really.

Be aware when choosing which field to pitch in that if you want to use the washing up/shower facilities next to the main house you may end up walking along a road to get there, it is a quiet road but still not one I would allow young children to navigate alone.  Choose wisely.

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Britchcombe offers two tippis and a yurt for a spot of glamping.  They are placed together and it is possible to book the area so that friends can come along and pitch alongside.

Perhaps the biggest attraction of this site apart from the pretty location is the access to the Ridgeway.  Directly above the site is the Uffington White Horse and the Iron Age Hill Fort known as Uffington Castle, walk along the Ridgeway another couple of miles to reach the atmospheric Waylands Smithy, an ancient burial mound barrow, nestled among a stand of old oaks and beeches .  Well worth a visit.  For details of a walk in this area look here.

In praise of September and the camping gods.

23 Sep

Have you noticed that September is a very beautiful month, the sun is that bit lower in the sky creating beautiful golden light. And this year the hedgerows are positively burgeoning with wild fruits to forage.  This weekend we saw elderberries, sloes, rosehips and crab apples. The leaves are just beginning to change and the grasses are yellow and interspersed with the tall skeletons of giant hogweed.

ImageThese wonderful sights are just one of the reasons why it is a great idea to go camping in September.  I was very happy to have the rare chance to enjoy a relaxing trip away in the campervan with my oldest friend this past weekend. I was looking forward to a good catch up, a long walk along the Ridgeway taking in The Uffington White Horse and the mystical Wayland Smithy’s Barrow, not to mention a visit to a good local pub for dinner (a luxury I don’t generally indulge in when camping with the family!) .

Now, it just so happened that I had been recently bemoaning my dissatisfaction with my current double sleeping bag. It just isn’t warm and cosy enough.  There are many wonderful things about camping in September but one of the less wonderful things is that night time temperatures are often lower than in the summer. Well, as if the camping gods had heard me, the kind people at Silverfox recently sent me this Vango Wilderness 3 Season Sleeping bag to review. Well thank you very much camping gods.

As it turned out it was an unusually warm night for September but I have shivered in my old sleeping bag on summer nights before and so I am happy to attest that it is indeed much warmer and snugglier than my old 2 season version.  The inside is wonderfully soft with none of that humid feeling you can get in a sleeping bag.  Lovely. We are considering reverting to canvas instead of the campervan and this sleeping bag made me feel more confident that I could still be warm sleeping in a tent again!

Vango Wilderness Double Sleeping Bag

The Vango Wilderness is £60 which is pretty good value in my book and I always feel good about Vango products, A good quality, trusted brand.

Now then camping gods – about that beautiful dutch cotton tent I’ve been fancying…

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