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A Beginners’ Guide to tent camping

Whether you’re pitching your tent at Glastonbury or taking the kids away for a week to the Lake District, camping is now the fashionable way to enjoy the fresh air and Britain’s best countryside

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The days of waking up to find yourself somewhat damp from the elements are all but over for many campers. Today, tents that stay firmly pitched in strong winds and dry in heavy showers are readily available, and thanks to a longer season than on the continent, camping trips in the UK can be made most of the year round. If you’re thinking of embarking on your first holiday under canvas this year, we have some essential advice to help you get the most from your experience.

The right campsite

The campsite you choose will shape your whole experience, so it’s important to pick somewhere you’ll enjoy being. Campsites come in many forms, but generally fall into one of two categories: the more basic sites and the larger holiday parks with lots of facilities. These are great for kids and have fantastic leisure facilities, bars, crèches and shops on-site, whereas the more basic ones offer a real sense of getting back to nature in outstanding rural settings, with more limited facilities but a great feeling of freedom. 

Consider whether you want to be on a lively site with plenty to do or a more peaceful one. This will depend not only on the site, but also on the time of year. If you’re looking for a restful, quiet time away, it’s best to avoid school holidays. Think about the types of activities you’d like to do too. Many UK sites such as Thriftwood Holiday Park (UK3038) in Kent have fishing, golf and horse riding nearby. The site is also situated close to Brands Hatch, making it ideal for a weekend trip to watch motorsport. Others, such as Woodlands Grove (UK0840) in Devon, provide even more, having attractions such as an adjacent zoo park and falconry centre.

Finding a tent 

Your tent will be your home away from home, so choose wisely. If you’re a first timer, it’s always best to visit a camping show to see tents fully erected before you buy. Check the zips are sturdy and non-rusting and ensure the fly sheet has strong seams. You will also want to consider what material you use and that will partly depend on what time of year you intend to camp. 

Sizes are usually on the cosy side, so if there’s two of you sleeping in the tent, go for a three-man option to ensure you have plenty of room for your belongings too. You may want to consider a tent with a porch to keep shoes and wellies outside the main sleeping space, especially if you’re camping in all weathers.

Do a practise pitch in the garden before you head off on your first trip to ensure you’re familiar with how to set your tent up. That way, when you arrive at the campsite, you can get the tent up quickly and easily. Wild camping is not encouraged in the UK, but there are sites that offer a wild camping experience. If you’re a first-timer, it’s always best to go to a reputable site if only for the sake of security. Pitches are often cheaper than you’d expect, especially in low season.

Getting it pegged

  • Grassy pitches will require the standard 6" steel pegs and 8" pegs for corners and guylines, while sites in areas like the Peak District may require sturdier rock pegs to cope with harder ground.
  • Always attach your guylines, even in calm weather.
  • Never pitch in a ditch! There’s more chance of waking up damp if it rains, so try to set up your tent on higher ground.
  • If you’re thinking of digging a drainage ditch, always obtain permission from the site owner first – remember there will be someone using the pitch after you.

Cook up a storm

One of the main attractions of camping is being able to cook and eat outdoors. Many campsites allow barbecues and there are plenty of options for hearty meals. Baked potatoes and sweet potatoes are an easy and tasty option, and vegetable omelettes are great for any meal. It’s a good idea to take a cool box for chilled foods such as cheese or fresh meat if you’re going away for a short period – there are many on the market that will keep food fresh for several days. 

If you don’t fancy cooking every night, most campsites have a bar or restaurant on site or nearby. Sites such as Castlerigg Hall (UK5660) in Cumbria have a restaurant that serves home-cooked breakfasts and evening meals using locally sourced ingredients.

What if it rains?

Camping in the UK always brings with it the risk of changeable weather. Appropriate clothing is of course necessary, but you’ll also need plenty of things to keep yourselves and the kids entertained in a downpour.

Taking a deck of cards and some board games will while away an afternoon, but seasoned campers in the UK have spent many a rainy day in their raincoats and wellies enjoying the outdoors regardless. Staying at a site with plenty of attractions nearby can also mean the wet weather doesn’t spoil your fun. You can keep dry by popping to a local museum or exploring one of the UK’s grand castles on a showery day. 


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