One thing I’ve learnt from seasoned camping friends is to do a trial run before a first camping holiday. Something local where you get to test out your tent and other camping equipment and also make sure that the kids don’t totally hate the whole concept of camping.
With a proper camping holiday planned for part of May half term I figured that we needed something before that so St George’s day was booked in as the perfect opportunity for us to have a trial run. Mr C and I have both camped before, but not for years and we don’t think we’ve ever camped together. It was also going to be the kids first time under canvas.
Now, first things first. April. Not the month most people go camping in, but I have to admit that I expected the weather to be somewhat warmer than it was! It’s fair to say that the night time temperature was freezing (or just a degree or so above) but at least we now know that future trips shouldn’t be as cold as this one.
After joining the Camping and Caravanning Club we decided that we’d stay very local for our first trip and so we headed over to their Hertford site which is only about 20 minutes away from home. Upon arrival we went to reception and from there an incredibly friendly and helpful member of staff found us somewhere to pitch our tent. He was absolutely lovely and found us a perfect sheltered spot with a nice line of sight to the children’s play area. This meant that the kids could run over there and play whilst Mr C and I concentrated on getting the tent up. Everyone had told me to make sure we had something to do to keep the kids occupied whilst we set up camp and this really worked perfectly.
As for pitching the tent – our new Vango Edoras 600XL. Well, we’d done this once before in our back garden, but this was the first time we’d pitched it in anger. Luckily all seemed to go according to plan. Footprint pegged down we then placed the tent on top of it, pegged out the corners and got to work inflating the air beams. It really is incredibly quick once you’ve done this.
With the beams all up Mr C was then able to peg the rest of it out and sort out the guy ropes whilst I started getting everything else out of the car and setting up inside.
We split the bedrooms so that the kids went in one together and we then unzipped the other two to form one larger bedroom for us. This then gave us space in there to put the big bag with all our clothes and spare blankets in too. In the main area we set up our chairs and our big table which soon became the centre of family life, much as our kitchen table does at home.
In terms of setting up our home from home that really was it. Yes it took a little while, but was much quicker than I expected. We still didn’t have any kind of a kitchen unit and that was very noticeable by its absence as we could have done somewhere to put our food and other bits of kitchen paraphernalia, but seeing as we were only there for one night we coped.
Once we were all set up and had given the kids a snack we went off to explore the site. The kids loved the playground and around it was a large field where they could kick a ball around too. Being so close to this really was one of the highlights of the trip for the kids. The site overall is huge though which 250 pitches and even three of the Camping and Caravanning Club’s Ready Camp tents too.
Lots of green space and a fair bit of wildlife too. We managed to ssily spot a couple of green woodpeckers in one area and there was plenty of other bird life around too. Being off-season only one of the amenities blocks was open, but this was obviously well looked after with nice clean showers and toilets as well as a decent sized dishwashing room. The laundry appeared to be out of action when we visited, but there was also space for disposing of chemical toilet and grey water and fresh drinking water taps. Reception hosted a small shop and there was also a little kiosk that opened in the morning and evening selling hot food and drinks.
After exploring we set about lighting the stove for the first time and cooking up some sausages for tea. We figure we need to come up with a good list of things you can cook in one pot, but for our first time we played it safe somewhat on the food front. Whilst Mr C cooked I followed another camper’s advice to get the kids into their thermals early. We popped them on under their clothes, the logic being that then at bedtime they didn’t have to put on any cold clothes. They could just keep the thermals on and pop their PJs on top. Another top tip was to take a couple of hot water bottles that we could pop into their sleeping bags for a bit before they got in to warm them up.
Tea eaten, teeth brushed and it was time to tuck the kids up for the night. Now that the sun had gone down the temperature was dropping fast so they were made snug in their sleeping bags with blankets piled on top.
Mr C and I sat outside for a while with a drink (and a few blankets) just enjoying each other’s company and not being distracted by phones or loads of jobs needing doing around the house. If I’m honest it was pretty much my favourite part of the day and really showed me what I wanted to get out of camping trips like this. Being able to hear a pair owls calling to each other was also something quiet special.
We turned in quite early and I actually managed to get to sleep relatively quickly. Master C woke us about 1am as he’d lost his cuddly toys in his sleeping bag. At that point it really was freezing cold and I popped on another layer of clothing and a woolly hat as well as popping one on Master C’s head. Three am was another wake up, but this time Master C had managed to lose himself in his sleeping bag! With the hood up mummy-style he’d somehow slid down inside and couldn’t work out how to get back up again.
I made a trip to the loos at this point and again being outside at this time of the morning (despite the cold) was really special. The owls were still calling to each other yet there was a beautiful stillness too.
Half past three brought some heavy rain which I think woke all four of us for a bit, but I was delighted that we all then managed to get back to sleep and the kids shockingly didn’t wake until 7.20 in the end! I’d expected the daylight to get them much earlier than that if I’m honest.
The really good news though is that we’d survived the night! And despite the cold the children don’t seem to have been put off camping at all.
Seeing as we were only staying the one night the next morning was really taken up with just the mundane stuff of making and eating breakfast, showering and then packing everything away again. I’m delighted that our trusty camping stove meant that I could have a nice hot cup of tea to start the day and a hot chocolate also helped Little Miss C defrost a bit.
When it came to packing up it was all a bit trickier than it had been setting up camp. I think our biggest challenge with camping is going to be fitting everything into our car – even with the additional roof box that we bought. We emptied the tent and got all the other bags etc packed back in the car before starting on the really difficult bit – the tent. When we’ve watched YouTube videos of people folding up this particular tent and putting it back in the bag they made it look so easy. It wasn’t.
Yes you can fold and roll it all up, but getting it back into the bag itself? Another story. We purposefully didn’t put the pump back in to give ourselves some extra space, but even still we struggled. I have a great series of comedy photos now though of Mr C lying on the bag to try to squeeze it down further. We came away without having managed to zip it all up properly, but I think we can see how we might need to fold it slightly differently next time to do it better. Seeing as it’s now all spread out in our lounge drying we’re going to get another opportunity to practice later in the week!
So overall, I have to say that our first camping trip was a huge success, despite the rain and freezing temperatures. We’ve realise that, as we thought, we do indeed need a proper kitchen unit and so on the way home from the campsite we actually called into Go Outdoors and purchased a Hi Gear kitchen (thank you Camping and Caravanning club for a 10% discount voucher!) much like the one we’d tried to purchase via Amazon before and I think that will be very handy on our next trip.
The Vango Edoras performed really well. We loved having so much space inside, especially as it meant the children could have space to play in there whilst Mr C and I got on and did other things. The big table also worked a treat, much as we’d hoped it would. All our sleeping bags and air beds also performed well, but there was no doubt that we needed the thermals, blankets and hot water bottles as well on this particular trip!
Last, but by no means least, we were also really impressed with the Camping and Caravanning Club site in Hertford. Great facilities, a lovely physical space and incredibly friendly people (both staff and other campers) all contributed to us having a great first family camping experience. Master C cried yesterday when I explained that he’d have to wait until the end of May before we went camping again. I think it fair to say that the family camping bug has bitten!