I grew up in a non camping family. My dad would rather set his underpants on fire than spend a night under canvas. Coming from such solidly tent averse stock meant that in my twenties, (when I still had disposable income that was not all spent in the Lego store) I was much more likely to be found reading a Mr & Mrs Smith Guide than browsing the Millets sale for collapsible camping chairs. But then we had kids (3, all boys, yes, all boys) and found that a spa that offered reflexology was suddenly less critical to a successful holiday. What mattered instead was space, lots of space and as you can't get more spacious than a field our camping career commenced. However, thus far, we have proved to be a rather crap campers. We have non of the gear and no ideas. Thus horribly rookie mistakes have been made along the way. Look away now seasoned campers but I was initially unaware that camping without an airbed is about as comfortable as wearing a thong to play badminton. Or that if you don't go to the loo before you get into your sleeping bag then at 3am you will find yourself facing a Sophie's Choice dilemma between walking to the toilet block in the dark or squatting outside the tent fearing that your #sneakyslash will attract a pack of feral foxes to circle your tent. So I have sought some advice from a more seasoned camper than I, a lady whose list of camping essentials includes the IG Rug and sequinned belly baskets. I am talking of course about the Delicious Dee Campling, Belle of the Bell Tent.
Campling on Camping.
My career as a camper began badly whilst on a Duke of Edinburgh expedition in my teens when my fellow bronze award candidates and I burnt all the wooden tent pegs on the camp fire in error, thinking they were kindling wood. 🤷🏼♀️However, despite this shaky start, I have continued to go camping all of my life - before and after kids, in rain and shine. They've been the best and worst holidays. Nothing beats a sunny camping holiday, glass in hand, watching the children playing happily outdoors all day. Conversely, I'll never forget the slugs in the tent one particularly wet summer!
Being a huge fan of my home comforts, I've always tried to make our tent cosy, but the purchase of a bell tent three years ago was a game changer. The transition from camping to glamping really does vastly improve your camping experience. Here are my 5 top tips for glamming up your camping and becoming a bona fide glamper.
1. A Bell Tent.
They're popping up everywhere now and as well as looking great, they're much quicker and easier to put up than traditional tents. You can buy them in several sizes - 3m to 6m diameter. Ours is a 5m one with a zipped in groundsheet (the slugs can't get in!) and was from www.soulpadtents.co.uk. When deciding on what size bell tent to get the main factor to consider is being able to dry it out. I know I sound like your dad, but bear with. It has to be 100% dry before you pack it away or it will rot. So you have to have a big enough garden or nearby space to be able to erect it to dry if you've been rained on whilst away. Once you've decided on size then the world's your oyster - they are soooooo easy to put up! I can even do it on my own in less than half an hour. Our old frame tent used to take two hours and a guaranteed bust up involving threats of divorce and murder. And once your bell tent is up you'll notice how quiet and calm it is compared to traditional nylon tents - no rustling or flapping noises. As long time Outwell tent users, we were sceptical about how dry you'd stay in a bell tent and how difficult they'd be to put up but our worries were unfounded on both counts. If you like the sound of bell tents, then you're ready for stage 2!
Rugs in a nylon tent would be ridiculous because they'd get damp from the condensation. However, because of the way that modern canvas bell tents are waterproofed, you don't get condensation. You might still think rugs are ridiculous in a tent but read on and allow me to convince you!
You can buy beautiful bespoke coir bell tent rugs from Soulpad. They look stunning and make your bell tent look like a proper home. However, we always bring our own rugs from home though because a) we're tight! and b) I prefer an eclectic look. Adding rugs immediately makes the tent look and feel cosy, warm and homely. This year I brought THAT rug ( aka the 'Erica' rug ) with us from www.laredoute.co.uk. My husband obviously gave me the the worlds biggest eye roll about that one! I also bring a vintage Persian rug I bought for a song from eBay years ago and a few from my burgeoning sheepskin rug collection. They all roll up tightly inside each other for packing and take up hardly any space in the van. My husband may disagree on the space thing but I remain resolute on it. Look how cosy it looks! And it really feels luxurious too which is a proper bonus when you're in soggy Cornwall for a week.
Yes I'm going to talk about fairy lights again! I absolutely love fairy lights and have them all over my house. I add them inside the bell tent and (if it's dry) outside too. They add more magic to your tent and have the added bonus of helping you find your tent in a dark field!
Festoons are also a great option and lots online shops now sell them such as www.glamcampingcompany.com. You can get them battery, solar or electrically powered and I have all of them for every eventuality!
Special note: only warm white fairy lights are allowed - not bright white, blue or multi-coloured. This is the law. As I write, I'm in unspoken competition with one of my French camping neighbours a few pitches down. Every night she has adds more lights, festoons and candles, so I add more lights too. Last night, though, she committed the crime of adding a string of multi coloured fairy lights. She has totally lost my respect and I now consider the battle won for me!
Another of my lifelong loves is bunting and another bone of contention in the Campling household - 'c**ting bunting' is a phrase not unheard of in this house. I stand resolute though - there's nothing like a bit of bunting to lighten the mood. This is especially true when on a soggy camping trip in Cornwall. Some types of bunting are a little passé I concur, but I personally love the 'fringing' type of bunting around more now - multicoloured torn fabric remnants like this:
Or, alternatively, white rectangular bunting like this like the kind Malmo & Moss has in her garden seen below.
5. Cool storage.
Once upon a time, storing your stuff when camping was all about keeping things as dry as possible in plastic boxes. But because you don't get any condensation with bell tents, as I mentioned before, you can use whatever you like! We use a vintage leather trunk to keep our cooker in, wooden crates for the kitchen and food and belly baskets for everything else - shoes, suncream, snorkels, toilet bags - the works. This year I've added a vintage bankers tin and my round 'Florence' shopping basket to my camping storage collection. As William Morris says' Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful' and I argue that the same rule applies to camping. Storage can be both useful and beautiful in your bell tent.
There's one last thing you'll need for glamping and that's a big hatchback vehicle as a minimum. The only drawback of bell tents is that they do weigh more and take up a bit more room in the car than standard tents. We have a VW Transporter and it's perfect for us - a family of five plus all our camping paraphernalia AND Rob's bike and cycling paraphernalia!
So - give it a try. I guarantee you'll never go back to normal camping because it's not like normal camping. You feel like you're living in your own cool little canvas cottage. All they have to do now is to overcome the other camping dread - communal toilets - and invent bell tents with bathrooms and there really will be no looking back!