My first experience of camping was Glastonbury 2005. Fresh faced and only twenty three, I arrived with a bright pink two man tent (for two people! What was I thinking?! Total novice) and solar powered shower, feeling so upbeat I could have taken on the world. Five hours later, lightning lit the artificial sky above my head in violent, neon pink, screams rang out across the field below, and the constant dripping on my forehead had me contemplating the efficacy of Chinese water torture. It was, in short, horrific, and the sight of toppled porta-loos and police divers searching for shocked campers’ passports in a soupy sea of mud the next morning did little to bolster my spirits. Nor the sheer effort of walking more than ten paces, the gloopy mud clamping my wellies in its vice-like grip with every step, making extrication an almost superhuman feat. Still, at least I was in a better position than another member of our party, who, on waking in the night to find his tent filling with water, grabbed his pen knife and proceeded to cut his way out of his tent (an inadvisable act when you are to spend the next four nights sleeping in aforementioned tent, and the weather forecast shows no immediate sign of improvement).
You’d think, on the basis of that experience, that I would never have attempted camping again. But despite the harsh conditions, that weekend spawned a love affair with festivals that has spanned more than a decade hence. And since I’ve hitherto not had the funds to upgrade to a gold-plated yurt complete with midget butler (or whatever else it is the cool kids do these days in their VIP areas), the humble tent and backpack combo has been used time and again – though always as an enabler, rather than a leisure pursuit in its own right.
So you can imagine my surprise at having ACTUALLY ENJOYED my first experience of CAMPING JUST FOR FUN, the recent spell of glorious summer weather having lured us at the weekend to a campsite in the Vresse-sur-Semois region of the Belgian Ardennes. Granted, there were a LOT of static homes and caravans where we stayed (our little tent stood out like a sore thumb), and we were woefully underprepared compared to some of the seasoned pros there (reversing our car to the barbecue so we could sit in the boot whilst eating, because we hadn’t brought any chairs), but overall my first time at a camp site was very positive. It had drinking water, clean toilet and shower blocks, and even a bar (God love those boozy Belgians-like home away from home). All that, and our pitch was located right beside the river, which was lovely.
After pitching our tent on Saturday we walked the kilometer into Bohan, passing a broken bridge that told of how the region suffered in WWII (the whole area felt steeped in history, which was fascinating). After failing to procure the bicycles our campsite host had tried to organise for us through a local vendor, we opted for an eleven kilometer hike through the forest, which was beautiful and challenging in equal measure – the main challenge being the near-constant horse fly attacks along the route. Three hours after we set off, we arrived back at the campsite, dirty and tired but exhilarated, and ready to prepare our barbeque supper and have a drink in the bar before bed.
On Sunday we woke surprisingly late, thanks to my sensible suggestion of positioning the tent in an area that would be shaded from the morning sun. We showered, packed up, bade our neighbours goodbye, and drove the four kilometres to Vresse, from where we hired a two person kayak. This was by far my favourite part of the weekend. Horseflies aside (those little bastards), we spent a very pleasant couple of hours cruising along the river, culminating in a palpitation-inducing accidental rapid navigation, after we failed to spot the signs and went the wrong way down a river channel (filmed by several amused looking tourists).
By the time we arrived back in Brussels, two hours after we set off, we were exhausted but revitalised. Despite only being away for one night it felt like a holiday, and made us realise how much we need weekends like that in our life, to rebalance the relative stresses of work and socialising. Sometimes there is nothing like switching off your smartphone, taking off your watch and getting amongst nature. It makes you feel alive, reminds you what life’s all about and, above all else, shows you can have adventure anywhere, if you just seek it out.