Lockdown has been looooooong. We’re all so ready to get out of the house and have a holiday, but there’s still so much uncertainty about going abroad or staying in a hotel. Meanwhile our beautiful UK campsites are getting ready to reopen on 4 July – creating a beautiful, outdoor and naturally socially distanced style of getaway.
If you’re a camper, this is a dream. But for many mums and dads who’ve been cooking, cleaning, teaching, tidying, caring, working and basically juggling all the plates, it might just sound like a lot more hard work.
Before we had kids, we used to love camping. Along the shores of Ullswater (where we got engaged) and Buttermere in the Lake District were favourites, but we also took tents on our backs around the Balkans. We camped on the coast of Dubrovnik in Croatia and to the shores of Lake Bled in Slovenia – loving that feeling of being outdoors in amongst nature. Ready to spring out of bed in the morning and climb a mountain or explore somewhere totally new.
Then we had a baby. The first time we took her camping in a borrowed 4-man tent it was good, but we inevitably spent more time at or in the tent than we did before. Getting up took a little longer, eating was a slower affair and actually it was lovely to watch our toddler just pottering around on the campsite. It was at this point we started eyeing up one of those gorgeous big circular structures decked out in bunting – we later found out it was a bell tent.
Once we got pregnant with baby number two, we figured that if camping from now on will naturally involve a little more hanging around, it had to be in a tent that we could all enjoy. So we bought a bell tent. A big 5-metre, gorgeous creation made of cream canvas with a zipped-in groundsheet and two big doors to let the air flow right through the middle. We were in love.
Our first trip in it to the Welsh coast while I was pregnant was just blissful. We had comfy blow-up beds, real duvets, pretty fairy lights, bunting, rugs as carpets and it all felt like a dream. Inside it’s bright, spacious and airy, the kind of place you want to meditate, do yoga in – or if you’re aged two, play in. Rather than feeling trapped at the tent, we wanted to be in it. When it got hot, we unzipped the doors and let the sea breeze blow through.
Since we’ve had our second baby we’ve taken our bell tent to the Lake District and Cornwall and I can honestly say that sleeping in that one space all together has given us some of the best nights’ sleep since having babies. There’s just something about it. Waking up to the natural light and taking puzzles and games and books to play with has helped us enjoy each other’s company, while the freedom to roam a campsite has been lovely for the children. Some have play areas, streams to paddle in, friends to make or just wide open spaces to run around in.
But more than anything, we find children just love the daily rhythms of life while you’re camping. Suddenly everything (washing, teeth cleaning, cooking etc) takes way longer and rather than seeing this as a negative, it can actually help you holiday more mindfully. Doing things at a slower pace gives kids the chance to play more of a role; helping to collect water, sweep up or collect sticks for the fire is a ‘grown up’ responsibility that is a lot more fun than you might think.
Of course, this applies whether you’re bell tenting or not (and is one of the things many of us have learnt during lockdown), but for us, adding a bell tent into the mix makes camping a much happier, calmer and magical experience for us all. In fact, we actually love bell tents so much that we’ve recently set up a business together called Borrowbelle. We set up bell tents for glamping getaways and parties across the Yorkshire Dales to share the magic of bell tenting with as many people as possible.
Our top tips for bell tenting with kids are:
Check out Cool Camping to find an amazing campsite that suits you.
Make your tent pretty – bell tents were made for rugs, bunting, fairy lights and lanterns.
Choose a campsite with the facilities you need – fridges are a must for us as our kids love milk! (I also need a hot shower every day.)
Shoes off at the door – this one rule will keep your tent as haven-like as possible.
Create a ‘kitchen area’ by the door and have cosy bedding area towards the back.
Let your little ones ‘help’ with setting up the tent or camping activities