Making memories camping - 10 minutes from home

Ellen's children with friends at a camp-out

Ellen's children with friends at a camp-out - Credit: Archant

Ellen Widdup’s 2.4 Children

Ellen's children with friends at a camp-out

Ellen's children with friends at a camp-out - Credit: Archant

After being met with a certain furore following the revelation that my husband and I plan to go abroad this year without our children, I felt obliged to prove to you all that I am not a terrible mother.

In fact, just to demonstrate my dedication to creating holiday fun for my brood, I took them all off on a weekend camping trip - albeit only 10 minutes down the road from our home.

“Where are you taking the kids on this special break?” my husband’s colleagues quizzed him at work.

“Woodbridge,” he replied.

“Don’t you live in Woodbridge?” asked one smirking.

“Yes,” he said sighing.

In my defence, I chose the Steadings Park Campsite - which is actually located in Newbourne - for it’s picturesque location, proximity to the nature reserve and the fact that it’s a short walk from the pub.

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But I can’t say I wasn’t also aware when I forked out my booking fee that it would be a quick dash home if it all went horribly wrong.

My escape plan went up in smoke an hour after we arrived however when I ran the car battery flat using the cigarette lighter to blow up the mattresses.

We were stuck. So I resolved to be jolly no matter what.

It helped that we went with friends – eight adults, 15 children and three dogs all packed into five tents and a camper van.

And we were certainly grateful of the extra hands when erecting our monster of a tent on Friday after school.

Now let me tell you a few things about camping.

Things I had forgotten – having not set foot on a campsite for about 15 years.

Number one, there are bugs. Loads of them. Nobody else got bitten but I was eaten alive.

“They are attracted to fragrances,” said the campsite owner watching me scratch my ankles until I drew blood. “Don’t wear make-up or perfume anymore and you will be fine.”

For goodness sake, I thought crossly, pocketing my travel-sized Chanel No5.

It was bad enough having to survive two days without my hair straighteners, but how in the world was I going to pull off that late-Sixties, Joplin-esque, flowers-in-my-hair, hippie chick look crucial to camping without my lip gloss?

Moving on to number two. Or not, as the case may be.

Let me tell you, camping cuisine is not conducive to anybody with a wheat intolerance. I shall spare you the gory details.

Number three, camping is not a holiday. Not for mothers anyway.

Firstly there is the list making. Food lists, clothes lists, lists of kitchen equipment, bedding required.

Tent, stove, First Aid kit, hot water bottles, gas canisters, batteries, torches, a bucket, loo roll. I would say everything but the kitchen sink but I threw in the washing up bowl too.

I packed it, checked it, crossed it off and squeezed it into the boot of the car while my husband stood by and watched.

“What do we need all this for?” he laughed.

“Oh go away,” I said glowering (or words to that effect).

The fact is, he has little idea what it takes to run a home, let alone run a home away from home.

And camping is just housework without the convenience of running water and electricity.

Number four, expect to sleep badly. Campsites are pretty noisy – especially if my husband and his friends are sat round a fire with a keg of beer until 1am.

They are also a haven for nocturnal wildlife. On the first night my dog barked incessantly at every hedgehog snuffle or owl hoot while my son woke up crying about things going bump in the night.

Number five, you have to allow for the cruel British weather. We were lucky this time actually. The forecast wasn’t promising and nor were the clouds we woke to on Saturday morning. But by mid afternoon the sun had burst through and we took the nippers off to Waldringfield to catch a few nippers of their own. After releasing the bucket of crabs back into the water, we took our wet, sandy children back to have a BBQ and enjoy the last of the rays.

On Sunday we were not so fortunate however. I woke in the early hours to crashing thunder and lightning streaks as rain lashed the tent sides.

Cosy in my sleeping bag, I snuggled down deeper to listen, thinking how marvellous camping was, until I swept my foot across the base of the mattress and found it sodden.

Further tentative exploration revealed a river flowing through the middle of our living quarters, snaking past the debris of clothing, shoes and cooking utensils strewn over the tarpaulin.

This was when we made a hasty exit (which would have been hastier had we not had to find a set of jump leads to kickstart the engine).

I’ve made it sound like a disaster, haven’t I?

But actually, it wasn’t.

For all the hiccups, discomforts and inconveniences, we laughed more than we have laughed in a long time.

We didn’t wash and we didn’t care.

We ate a lot, drank a lot, talked, walked and played games.

The children ran wild. They climbed tress, rolled down hills, threw cartwheels in the grass and waded into the mud. There was nothing to constrain them, no rules, no bedtime.

And without wishing to sound soppy, I could feel us making memories in every moment.

When we got home on Sunday night, we tucked up our tired, happy children into warm, dry beds.

“That was a great holiday,” my daughter murmured as she fell asleep.

“It was,” I replied, stroking her hair.

But for all my attempts to prove my mummy mettle, I have one tiny admission.

Slumming it in the tent for two days has just made me look forward to our couple’s break in 5* luxury even more.

Find me on Twitter @EllenWiddup.