This weekend, I went to a wedding in Cambridge. Having failed to look for a room in a hotel until three days beforehand, I not surprisingly found that the only available rooms were either £200 a night (steep for two, astronomic on my own), or were bed & breakfasts that had rather curious Tripadvisor reviews – where most of the comments say “horrorshow”, interspersed with some reviews clearly planted by the hotel staff. The last time I was suckered by a B&B like that was when I booked a place in York, also at short notice, and I decided not to repeat the unpleasant experience of a stained mattress and a mouldy shower for £90 a night.
This little climbing preoccupation I’ve developed means that I now have one of my parents’ old tents in London – it is somewhat de rigeur to camp when on climbing trips. So, partly out of a slight nostalgia for teenage camping holidays, and partly lured by the thought of only spending £14 on what would in any case be a very drunken few hours’ sleep, I booked myself into the Cambridge Caravan and Camping Club Site.
Saturday morning came around, and after dropping my friends off at the Hotel du Vin, I eventually arrived at the campsite in Great Shelford, which is a densely populated suburb on the Ring Road. I drove down a narrow private road, flanked by houses on either side, to a large green gate, leading onto a big manicured green field surrounded by a well trimmed hedge.
There were about a dozen caravans, surrounded by all sorts of awnings, gazebos and other paraphernalia, and three tents pitched in a corner. The caravan people, if they were not hiding from the sun, appeared to be quite busy arranging chairs and tables, and tidying away nothing in particular. The tent people were lying in the grass, asleep.
I got my tent set up in the designated area, and changed into my dress. Since I was running rather late by this time, I was clipping my fascinator into my hair and fiddling with lip gloss as I rushed back up the driveway. The caravan people stared, while the tent people carried on doing nothing at all. Actually, I exaggerate – they all seemed rather amused, but the tent people didn’t have to stop doing nothing.
That’s what I don’t understand about caravans. Why would you go to all that trouble when you can set up a tent in five minutes, have nothing else to organise, pay next to nothing, and live in delightful semi-feral chaos? Caravans are hugely expensive to start with, really tedious to drive anywhere, and fiddly to set up when you get to your destination. The thought of cleaning out chemical toilets every day is also quite repulsive.
There are however a few caveats to camping, particularly alone:
- Don’t get back to the campsite extremely drunk at 2 am
- Make sure you actually pack clothes other than silk dresses
- Don’t pack a 1-season sleeping bag. It may be summer, but it was still 6 degrees
- Don’t sleep in your car if you’re more than 5 feet tall
- If you do sleep in your car, don’t set off your own car alarm
- Don’t sleep in silk dresses
Still, I saved £186, kind of!