This weekend I went on my first proper camping trip. As a kid my parents had a caravan we holidayed in, and as a teenager all my tent-based activities amounted to was 15 or so music festivals – camping in a sense, but not the real “heart” of what camping’s about.

When I holiday I usually like to plan a few activities; do a little research and find a few “must-do” things is nothing else. This trip was different. I threw together my clothes and supplies a few days before the trip, drove the hundred miles or so to meet my camping companion and then out into the glorious New Forest, which remains one of the closest things Britain has to wilderness some thousand years after it was “cordoned off” as a Royal Forest for hunting by William the Conqueror.

Campsite life is simple and humble, We had things to cook with, things to sleep in and things to make a fire, and that was about it. Oh and things to drink, but I won’t go too far into that. Our daily routine was to get up quickly (as our tents were like a furnaces in the early morning sun), get washed up and dressed and then enjoy a long, slow breakfast.

Camping stoves force one to be mindful: mindful of the tremendous heat they produce and the precarious way pans and kettles teeter on their folding surfaces. I sat with my hand on the handle of the kettle, feeling it slowly warm and eventually feeling the first bubblings of boiling water within. Similarly with cooking, our daily breakfast of (vegetarian) pork and beans would either not cook at all or burn in an instant, depending on the heat of the stove: as such, constant attention and movement was required. I loved our breakfasts and every bite was nicer for the care it took to make. All of this was, of course, unspoken.

After breakfast we’d make some tentative plans for our day. This didn’t ever amount to more than “Let’s walk in the New Forest” or “Let’s walk along the coast”. A short drive took us into the heart of the forest, replete with wild ponies, donkeys, pigs and all manner of birds and beasts. We got horribly, hilariously lost many times trying to navigate by a general sense of direction. At one point we both remarked there seemed to be a lot of signs to “Ipley Cross”. Turns out there’s one sign to Ipley Cross and our route allowed us to see it from every angle.

When we eventually found a promising spot we unpacked our supplies and set down for lunch, only to be set upon by a gang of 10 or so donkeys keen to share our lunch. Donkeys have a reputation for being stubborn, one I learned was accurate when I tried to persuade one to get it’s head out of my car’s boot (trunk), and another to wake up from it’s spot leaning on the side of my car (standing, of course).

We walked into the woodland and found ourselves in about 15 different environments over two hours. The New Forest is a wonderfully diverse landscape, from thick deciduous forest through rolling heathland, grassy plains and bracken-blocked gullies. We saw a huge range of birds, some which I’m not aware of seeing before (Stonechats stick out in my memory). After a while we decided we’d walked enough and turned back, to see everything we’d just passed from another perspective.

Another day we took a walk to some local cliffs, which turned out to be about 10ft tall and heavily eroded by recent storms. We turned back and walked the mile and a half to Hurst Castle, a coastal defence used continuously from the time Henry VIII built it to defend against the Spanish to ten years after the end of the Second World War where it watched for German bombers. It was a strange place full of history, and we stood on the battlements of the tower which imprisoned Charles I before his execution in London and watched ships old and new sail between the land and the Isle of Wight.

At night we would make a fire and tend it carefully to avoid putting it out. Neither of us had much experience of this and on the first night we ended up smoking ourselves half to death in an attempt to keep the thing lit. On the second night we discovered the wonders of kindling and established some basic principles of airflow. By the third night we were burning so well I had to go on a torchlit expedition to pilfer some more firewood! Managing a fire is also a mindful business, and one with a great reward. There can be few more magical experiences than sitting by a good friend, drinking some good wine (Villa Maria doesn’t seem to have been affected by the poor season of 2013, as it happens), and gazing into a good fire on a cool summer night.

When we were both at the point of no longer being able to keep our eyes open, we said goodnight and turned into our respective tents, beginning the nightly business of keeping the airbed pumped and ourselves warm. This was not as easy as it sounds given my increasingly vintage airbed (since replaced – yes, already) and ultra-lightweight (ie thin) sleeping bag. When I arrived home I lay down on my bed to make a phone call and fell asleep before I’d finished dialling, so comfortable was it in comparison.

At the start of the trip the tents went up in about an hour: at the end, chronically hungover, it was more like two to get everything packed away. But it was quite a realisation that everything we truly needed to survive, and in some comfort, could be deployed and packed in an hour, and comfortably contained by my little car.



My trip was successful and it taught me a great deal about relaxing into the moment. I didn’t make any firm plans so I didn’t feel any pressure. Everything I had to do required mindfulness, so I enjoyed both the business of doing it and the attendant rewards far more. I got lost but then I found my way. I enjoyed many beautiful natural sights, sounds, smells and sensations. I met many other creatures of the wider Force and shared interactions with them I wouldn’t otherwise have had. I reflected on the history of my country and felt a profound realisation of how the wide and varied paths of the past had brought me to the present moment. I missed my children, and I missed my wife too, so that returning home became something I also looked forward to.

Yesterday I booked another camping trip, a few nights away at the end of the month for my young son and I, down by the coast (near Weymouth if you’re curious). I can’t wait to enjoy a similarly formless weekend with the little man, to share with him some of the same simple joys and the genuine mindfulness a more down-to-earth approach to life requires and allows us to experience. In the daytime we’ll be led by whim and do whatever we like, simple things like blowing bubbles, flying kites and beach-combing. In the evenings I’ll have a fire and read, and if it rains we’ll have to find other ways of enjoying the time (thank god for the car, I guess). I also look forward to the lessons in mindful parenting it will give me.

Later in the year I hope to take a solo camping trip as well, to meditate and reflect on this strange year, enjoy a direct experience of nature and once again immerse myself in the moment in all that I do. I guess I’ve caught the camping bug, as a friend put it yesterday! There’s just so much life in camping. Even now, a few days on, feeling fatigued and a little dazzled by the week’s experiences, I feel rested and calmer at a deeper level. Camping may not be great for one’s sleep cycle (at least with my sleeping bag and airbed), or one’s feet (the blisters are starting to heal), or one’s stomach (ta campsite Rogan Josh and half crate of Villa Maria). It is without question good for the soul.

I feel refreshed, renewed and a little more “Forcely” than I did this time last week. It’s good to be back!