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‘Hurry up and get changed‘ my father instructs me ‘we’re almost ready to go’. We did not argue with my father so instead I look down sadly at my new white shoes and did as bid. Carefully removing my veil and struggling out of my white satin dress, I pulled on my shorts and T shirt and joined my siblings with the packing. I can’t remember if our camping trip for the week of the mayfly was to Lough Corrib or Lough Conn or Lough Mask but I do remember that it coincided with a day when I should have been (as I’m sure my classmates were) sitting in my communion finery in some posh hotel being admired by all and sundry. As I looked back at the white crumpled heap on the floor, a small part of me felt hard done by, but I had to admit I’d rather be on some lake shore where the reed warblers and stone chats and finches whisked in and out among the young willow and alder and where a great crested grebe bobbed on the choppy water and where we were free to take out a boat and row across to the different islands carrying small wooden boxes with mesh and a sliding door, rather like an old fashioned pencil case, to catch and put mayfly in and returning would stand at the gate and sell them to passing fishermen, whose waders made slapping sounds as they forded through the small streams that fed the lake and their heavy dapping rods caught and rustled in the branches of the willow and alder and where at night I would lie cosily among my siblings and listen to the tent flapping as the wind rose and after a while would hear the sound of my dad pulling the seventeen foot wooden clinker built lake boat up on the shore in the dark and where when I raised my head of my pillow I would catch a glimpse of my mothers face half lit by the lantern where she was lighting the bluey gas in the tent awning and putting on the kettle to make them both a cup of tea and eventually I would drift off to the sound of their murmurings as they discussed the happenings of the day and the loveliness of camping in the wilds.

Why is it that some of us, who can well afford a hotel or a villa or even just a small cottage for our holidays choose instead to lie on the ground, in a sleeping bag, covered by a flimsy piece of tarpaulin in the middle of nowhere?.

The ‘middle of nowhere’ bit is very important, for to camp side by side with hundreds of strangers in long straight lines or even in a dotted fashion of a camp site no matter how wonderful the view’s, is not what it’s about.

I heard recently that a tribe consists of no more than eighty people.

That eighty people is the largest amount we can sociably contend with (Which is why I am looking forward to my daughters wedding of just under that amount where out of interest we will be renting a beautiful villa complete with pool and not a tent) and that surrounding ourselves with any more than this number makes us uncomfortable and aggressive or defensive and certainly not sociable and may be the reason that we whilst we will greet a person we meet walking on a country road, we are reluctant to even make eye contact with another human on a city street.

Is this where it all went wrong I wonder?

Did what was suppose to be the civilizing of people become the opposite. And once we no longer had to gather together in a defensive group to ward off wild animals, did we begin to turn on each other instead? a sort of auto immunity of humans against humans in the same fashion that the body turns on itself in the case of an autoimmune disease.

But this is not a post on anthropology and I am diverting from my camping thoughts

I have much pondered my love of wild solitudinal camping especially when, as I imagine others sipping gin and tonics in a glass with an umbrella on a white beach reclining on a sun lounger with the firm knowledge of retiring to an air conditioned room later where a vigorous shower and soft bed for the night is a surety, I am sitting huddled under canvas riding out a storm, or out hammering in storm pegs as the Northwest gale tried to blow me and my tent into the sea.

I recently shared my pondering’s with a camping friend who came up with this.

‘Maybe deep down’ She said ‘there is a part of us , an ancient side that rejects consumerism, so every now and again we run away and camp to remind ourselves of the loveliness of living simply. A yearly event, a sort of pilgrimage. a trip to Mecca, Which we find ourselves planning for months in advance and if we don’t get a chance to part take of it on a yearly basis at least, we go into a decline’.

She may have hit the nail on the head (or should I say the mallet on the peg)

Of course not everyone has this need within them.

I have plenty of work colleagues who look at me in horror when we discuss our best holiday moments. Theirs being, lying on a lilo at some Italian lido while waiters in white shirts and khaki shorts, stand knee deep holding a tray of cold drinks at the ready……. mine being, finding that perfect spot to pitch my tent then wander barefoot over grassy fields and down small sandy boreens to the waters edge where I watched the seals cavort.

Sometimes these friends regard me with awe but mostly they think I am mad and beyond help. Whereas I think what I do is perfectly normal and presume everyone does the same.

I should mention here there are ‘the middle people’. Those quite happy to do ‘canvas’ holidays where the tent is already set up with portable cooking facilities and beds up off the ground, and is one of a hundred tents stretching in a row as far as the eye can see. The only concession to pretending to be really camping is the fact you have to walk to the cement toilet block to wash. The fact that these camp sites are usually in a nice forest or lakeside setting does not fool me into considering this as ‘camping’.

And of course there is ‘glamping’ (oh how I hate that word and the whole conniving way of it) though its nothing personal against a yurt which I think is a most sound thing of great wonthiness ( if they can make up new words so can I)

To me glamping has no right to consider itself true camping.

Despite the wise words of my friend I think it is deeper than that.

I think you have to be born to it, inherit it, have experienced it as a small child and have grown up with it and loved it.

Interestingly, I met an old friend with whom I had studied midwifery with in Scotland where we had all shared a big old house with a large garden. She reminded me how, when we received our first pay package I went to the local camping shop and bought a tent and putting it up in the back garden, slept in it …..

At one of my sister’s wedding in Galway, we had booked en-mass into a lovely old country hotel (yes we are comfortable with the hotel thing too) My mom on receiving the key to her room, looked around at the squishy armchairs and sofa’s grouped cosily around a turf fire and remarked to the receptionist ‘Oh this is so lovely, we are more used to camping you know’. At which the receptionist replied ‘Oh are ye traveller’s’?

My Mom was mortified, but maybe we are.

Maybe she taught us to be.

Travellers into nature …

‘I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown. for I found going out, was really going in.’

Maybe that’s why I camp! Maybe my going out is really going in, going home? Maybe like John Muir I am happiest when I am outside and when night falls there is only a sliver of tarpaulin separating me from nature.

Offer me a month in the worlds most luxurious hotel where I would be waited on hand and foot OR two weeks in a tent where I could sleep at night where there is no light save the moon and the stars, hear no sounds other than those of nature, be woken only by the sunrise, sleep as the sun sets, wash in non polluted rivers, gather wood for a fire to boil the kettle for a morning coffee, head across the beach for a morning swim, sit in the doorway of my tent and watch the seals swim, and the tern’s dive, lie among the harebells and watch the clouds scud by……

I know which I would choose without hesitation.2008_0111mannin080077 (2)

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Keep close to nature’s heart and break free once in a while and climb a mountain or spend a week in a woods. Wash your spirit clean’ (John Muir)

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