Lure of the great outdoors breaks all records

New research shows that more of us are longing to shake off the urban lifestyle and experience the campfire and the open sky. A craze – or a long-term trend?

Britain has gone camping crazy. Latest figures from the world's largest camping club, the Camping and Caravanning Club, show reservations for tent spaces up 188% this year; and the UK Office for National Statistics will confirm this month that over 6 million camping trips were made last year – 30% more than 2009 and a million more than the number of stays in a B&B.

This puts sleeping under canvas among the fastest growing crazes of modern times. Whether it fades again as fast as it has exploded, the camping bug has a long and colourful history.

A new book out this week, The Art of Camping*, traces the story. In Britain the desire to sleep beneath the stars took off in the late 19th Century, inspired by a desire to escape the grimness of the new industrial cities. The other great camping nation was America, where the motivation was more complex – mainly driven by a spiritual yearning to connect with the raw power of nature.

Camping pioneers were often highly eccentric. The founder of the National Camping Club in 1906 was Thomas Hiram Holding, a man who travelled across America by wagon at the age of nine, then cycled around Ireland with four friends and invented a recipe for making blancmange on a campfire.

Camping might have remained the narrow preserve of gleaming-eyed and bearded outdoorsmen had it not been for the arrival in the 1960s of cheap and efficient synthetic materials that made tents easier to put up and much lighter to carry.

Rising demand for cheap family holidays led to the creation of thousands of official campsites with prepared tent sites and shower-blocks

Today the camping craze is being boosted by two trends: the rise of the music festivals such as 'Glastonbury' and 'Bestival', and the popularity of 'glamping' in which the great outdoors is combined with luxuries such as the claw-footed baths, wood burning stoves and outdoor jacuzzis more often found in glamorous hotels.

Happy or mad?

Since the 1920s, camping has been associated with physical well-being. Now enthusiasts are arguing that it has psychological merits too. The Camping and Caravanning Club has released evidence from 60 research studies that shows campers are 'happier, have closer family relationships, are healthier, less stressed and are more socially connected'.

Others, however, think campers are mad, even offensive. To spend time deliberately getting cold and wet and leaving a decent house empty when so many people in the world do not have a roof to call home, they say, is akin to throwing away good food when others are starving.

*The Art of Camping by Matthew de Abaitua. Hamish Hamilton £14.99.

You Decide

  1. Is it stupid to live without luxuries if you can afford them?
  2. Some people camp while others long to be able to sleep in a warm house. Does that make it wrong?

Activities

  1. Design your perfect tent and draw it. Are you after luxury, portability, beauty, sustainability or something else?
  2. Write down five reasons why camping might make you happier.

Some People Say...

“You never know someone properly until you have been camping with them.”

What do you think?

Q & A

Glamping – tell me more?
If you stay, for example, at The Dandelion Hideaway in Leicestershire, you will have to leave your car at the end of a track past a barn full of goats and carry your belongings to your tent by wheelbarrow.
What's so glamorous about that?
The luxury starts when you get to your tent. They call it a 'canvas cottage' because it has separate rooms inside, a huge bathtub with hot and cold running water, a huge log fire, four-poster beds with linen sheets and sofas to loll around on.
So not camping at all?
Well, the walls are canvas. You are in the middle of field. You can hear every bird tweet and hedgehog snuffle. There's no electricity, no TV – just candles and lanterns.
Wow – how much?
Right now, £436 for a three-night weekend for six people (or £24 per person per night).

Word Watch

Eccentric
odd or unusual behaviour but no so odd as to be called insane. Eccentrics are sometimes highly intelligent or even geniuses, which is why they are often a bit different from the average. Equally they might just be different due to their upbringing or character.
Blancmange
a wobbly milk pudding a bit like a jelly, made with milk, cornflower, sugar and often a little lemon and vanilla.
Outdoorsmen
people who spend a lot of time outdoors, often hunting or fishing and living in a tent. Usually a lover of nature.
Synthetic materials
Fibres created by scientists out of man-made materials rather than natural materials. The first synthetic material was known as 'artificial silk' or viscose. Now about half of all the cloth we use is synthetic.
Claw-footed bath
Originally these were cast iron bathtubs created in the 1800s for the rich. They stood on four small feet known as 'claws' due to their shape. Modern versions look the same as the old ones but are made of lighter material and are much easier to install.

PDF Download

Please click on "Print view" at the top of the page to see a print friendly version of the article.