Sleeping under the stars may not be everyone’s idea of the perfect family break but in the current age of concerns over ‘too much screen time’, there is no denying that a family camping trip provides a back to nature experience that we should perhaps all
There may be no room service but the memory of toasting marshmallows around a campfire with the kids is well worth it.
Andy Boe from the Northern Ireland survival school shares his advice to keep everyone in the family a happy camper. “I highly recommend camping, civilised or not so much, as a cheap, adventurous, memory forging, environmentally friendly and family bonding sort of holiday.”
Here are a few top tips from Andy to help you and the kids get more out of a camping break:
1. Put the tent up correctly. Follow the manufacturer’s guidelines and build it correctly taking into account overhead hazards, wind direction and slope. Use common sense. Short cuts now will be paid for in the middle of the night! Single skin, pop-ups tents are usually not very high quality so it might be worthwhile getting something with a double skin for waterproofing. Most good camping shops like Tiso’s and Cotswolds can advise you and there are some excellent deals on the internet. Don’t spend more on your dinner than on something you and your family will be using as home for the weekend and for many weekends to come.
2. Make sure you bring air-beds or insulation mats to sleep on. Sleeping on the ground is a good way to get really cold and develop a sore back. Make sure that the sleeping bags that you are going to use are suitable for the season. Mummy style sleeping bags are best for warmth and can be bought on the internet for bargain prices. Standard rectangular sleeping bags (which I used when I was small) are for sleeping over at someone’s house and not really suitable.
3. Bring a good lantern for the tent. There are excellent LED lanterns available which last for many hours and have low power settings to make them last even longer. They are also relatively cold which means they are not dangerous. A couple of LED head torches are an excellent idea for toilet trips in the night as well.
4. Keep them involved. Let the kids help put up the tent, they can hammer at pegs, make the beds inside, fetch and carry. By helping put the tent up and getting in and out of it lots of times they are much less likely to be nervous at bed time. You can even practise putting it up in the garden beforehand.
5. Go for a nature walk. It doesn’t matter if you don’t know anything about nature. Now is the time to learn together. Get a good picture based nature guide such as the Collins Complete Guide - British Wildlife by Paul Sterry. Try and identify the insects, plants and trees that you come across, just like at the seaside where we look into rock pools and under rocks, turn over dead logs and leaves and see what turns up. Children love nature.
6. Make leaf rubbings. Make sure you bring drawing paper and pencils/crayons. Leaf rubbings are great fun and support learning about different trees. Ask them to make a rubbing of every different leaf around the tent for example.
7. Build a primitive shelter. It is an easy thing to go into the wood and build a den for kids to play in. Lean long poles against a tree to create a lean-to and throw leaf debris from the forest floor on as thatching. Sit in it quietly and listen to the forest come alive. It is amazing how soon small birds will call by to take advantage of the ground disturbance to find worms.
8. Bring outside toys. A ball, a Frisbee, anything which they can really make the most of all the space with. Make sure you bring toys or games that will keep them amused when they can’t play outside too.
9. Always keep a spare set of warm clothes in the driest place you have. Probably the car. This means that if there are any unexpected disasters you have somewhere to retreat too.
10. Adopt the wilderness attitude and relax. Get dirty and accept that you won’t be totally clean until you get home!
Waterproof coat & wellies
Toys & Games
Pencils and paper
Football or Frisbee
Bottles of water & snacks
First aid kit
One of the most enjoyable things about camping is of course the opportunity to make S’ mores. In the USA these are traditionally made with graham crackers which is a type of sweet cracker but a plain malt or digestive biscuit will work just as well.
You will need: Serves 6
•3 regular sized bars of your favourite chunky chocolate bar such as Cadbury’s Dairy Milk.
•A packet of digestive or malt biscuits.
•24 large marshmallows.
•Roasting sticks. Find a long dead stick for roasting your marshmallows - don’t destroy or damage a tree. Top tip - A stick with a forked end is always good for roasting several marshmallows at once.
Roast the marshmallows over the campfire as you need them for each S’more as they are best consumed warm and should melt the chocolate on contact. Place one roasted marshmallow and one square of chocolate between two biscuits. Give it a squeeze and enjoy!
Where to go:
Delamont Country Park, Killyleagh. With views of Strangford Lough, the park includes an adventure playground and miniature railway. Facilities: showers and washing facilities on site.
Carnfunnock Country Park, Larne. Campsite set in the idyllic surroundings of Carnfunnock Country Park with a walled garden, maze and family fun zone Facilities: Picnic/barbeque areas.
Drumhoney Caravan Park, Enniskillen. In the heart of County Fermanagh’s main tourist area with a children’s farm, recreation block, play area and football pitch.
Facilities: New 'Holiday Camping Pods', a tent-free alternative to camping. Catering for family of up to six, pods are heated, fully insulated and double glazed with front porch and deck area.
Ballyness Caravan Park, Bushmills. Award winning park on the spectacular North Coast near the Bushmills Distillery Facilities: Fully serviced pitches, washrooms, free hot showers, family bathroom, internet point and WiFi.
For a truly eco-friendly secluded family camping experience Orchard Acre Farm in Co Fermanagh offer a private camping experience in their ‘tepee’. One family at a time only can come and enjoy a stay at the small holding which has won a number of sustainability awards. Kids will enjoy getting to help out with the animals and breakfast hampers are provided in the morning.
Andy Boe is the joint Chief instructor with the Northern Ireland Survival School. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.nisurvival.co.uk
The NI Survival School is hosting a ‘Parents Go Primitive’ event on Saturday July 7 from 10am – 5pm in the Ballymena / Larne area. Get back to nature and take a day out in the woods to learn survival skills while creating a priceless memory with your child. Build shelters, learn how to make a fire, do some back woods cooking and there will be tracking and wilderness walks. The cost for 1 adult and 1 child is £40 for the day. Tel: 07415 223 392