By Rhonda Carrier
Being roused by the strident honks of peacocks was more than a little disorientating after an unprecedented run of waking in my own bed over the course of this last year and more. But the sweet scent of morning dew mingled with the smell of bacon frying all around quickly put me back in the picture: we were camping.
'Our four teen boys spent their days messing about on the River Ouse that runs through the parkland – hurling themselves from the banks with vigorous war cries, swimming amidst the huge dragonflies, skimming stones and hitching rides aboard paddleboards and canoes.'
With seemingly everything – the pandemic, the pingdemic, ever-changing traffic-light lists, work schedules and the complexities of family life in general – conspiring against a holiday abroad this summer, we were forced to be very ad hoc about getting away. And when a window finally appeared in which we could grab a long-overdue catch-up with friends, it was great to just throw a few days’ worth of kit in the car and head south.
Wild swimming in the River Great Ouse
Wild Canvas Camping is a pop-up site with a festival vibe, held this year in the gorgeous parkland of Bedfordshire’s Turvey House less than an hour from London, following a sell-out initial run in Somerset last year. You can camp here in tents or your camper-van, but much of the beauty of the site for me lay in not having to make lists, pack and generally be organised. I’d booked a tipi and firmly committed to the notion of doing no catering at all. Since March 2020, there’s been enough home-cooked meals to last a lifetime, both from mine and the kids’ perspectives. The food vendors were there to take care of things.
And these three days were indeed remarkably restorative for a camping break. There was yoga and qigong, for starters. As I lay in the communal Nest tipi submitting to an evening yoga nidra accompanied by a reading of Borges’ shattering poem Shinto, I felt the force of the natural surroundings lift away some of the stress of the last 18 months. A place of river and trees, Turvey is exactly the kind of spot where the Shinto spirits are said to reside.
Activities at Wild Canvas
There’s kids’ yoga, too, along with activities ranging from graffiti art to nature club and evening storytelling around a fire-pit. Things are a bit quieter on weekdays than on weekends, but my and my friend’s teen boys proved supremely happy spending their days messing about on the River Great Ouse that winds its way through the parkland – hurling themselves from the banks with vigorous war cries, swimming amidst the oversize dragonflies, skimming stones and hitching rides aboard paddleboards and canoes.
Come evening there were chilled-out DJ sets at the bar with its local ales and the likes of pizzas and pulled-pork flatbreads from the food truck. In the morning, the same truck furnished us with breakfast baps, pains au chocolat, hot chocolates and good, strong flat whites. The only catering we did ourselves was toasting the obligatory marshmallows over our campfire, but even that we left largely to the kids.
Handmade in Glastonbury, our tipi wasn’t exactly a glamping experience. There was too much insect life for that, and our toilets and showers were the shared campsite facilities. But they came complete with very comfy beds and lanterns so you didn’t have to bring your own, and we also enjoyed the luxury of complimentary buggy transport of our belongings from the car park.
It’s little touches like this that were the real gold for two harassed, home-schooling-fatigued mums who yearned for nothing more than a few days away from home, a break from routine and happy, feral, mask-free children.
Wild Canvas Camping runs until 31 August 2021 and costs from £24pp (£6 for kids) for a tent and from £160/night for a tipi sleeping 4 (minimum 3-night stay). Read more about UK family holidays and breaks.