I camped as a kid when I was in Brownies - big canvas tents in a field, groundsheet, sleeping bag, and a washstand made from sticks, string, and a plastic washing up bowl. It was absolute heaven. Growing up on a diet of Swallows and Amazons, I made tents and dens every day during the summer holidays, and even slept in the back garden in a one-man tent inherited from an older cousin. Bliss. My husband isn't a camper though, so I hadn't camped for years and years. Then friends invited me to join them on a long weekend under canvas on a little site on the Welsh coast, and I had a brainwave - leave the husband, baby and dogs behind, stick a tent, a couple of bottles of pink wine, and my two eldest girls in the car, and off we went.
The first time we went camping, I borrowed a friend's tent and all the kit, just to see how we liked it. Well with this view, how could you not enjoy yourself?
After spending a truly lovely weekend getting in touch with my scruffy, sweaty and slightly feral inner self, I immediately invested in a bell tent from Canvas Under the Stars, plus all the trimmings.
I then squeezed in one final trip last year with my big girls to celebrate my birthday. We camped on a little site in Derbyshire, close enough for my husband and the baby, plus my parents to come and visit for the day.
It rained when I was packing up. When you pack a canvas bell tent up in the rain, you have to unpack it at the other end and drape it over your dining table for 24 hours until it dries out, otherwise it will get mould spots.
I'm absolutely in love with our bell tent. It's warm at night and cool on a hot day. I can pitch it by myself (it's not difficult to do, but it takes a lot of lugging around and whacking of tent pegs). It looks super-pretty. It's very spacious inside and you can have a proper family sleepover, all snuggled up in a row. We have a 5m bell and can fit five mattresses in one half with all the kitchen equipment and chairs in the other half (we don't cook inside as I can't get my head around having a stove under canvas).
Fast forwards eight months and camping season rolls round again. I phoned up a site on Anglesey to find out if they had a pitch for the bank holiday weekend. "Yes, love, we do. How many are you?". Well, we've got a five metre bell with an awning, two adults, three kids, and three dogs. Long pause. "Sorry love, we're full". Well, not everyone wants to accommodate a travelling circus I suppose. Back to Aberafon we went, this time with the whole family. My poor non-camping husband slept for about 2 hours each night but bravely pushed on through with the aid of wine.
I've become a pro at pitching the bell. First put the groundsheet down. Then arrange the tent on the groundsheet with door (zipped up) pointing in the desired direction. Peg in the base like a clock - door first (six) then opposite (twelve), then three, then nine. Pull tight each time. If you get the base right then the sides will be nice and taut. Then lift the centre pole into place, being sure to angle it at right angles to the slope of the ground (this gets rid of wrinkles in the main canvas). Then the A-frame. Finally the guy ropes, placed so they line up nice and straight with the seam they're connected to. Boom! Takes me about 45 minutes to do a proper job by myself. Don't forget to pack your mallet!
Here's our first ever pitch in the back garden - had no idea what we were doing but got by with the aid of a couple of YouTube videos. Looking back we pitched it horribly but I was pretty pleased with myself at the time!
It's not all bunting and bonfires on the beach though - this is what happens when you get home...
Totally worth it!