Camping. Ah yes, back to nature’s basics. Fresh air, the simple life, just you and your oversized hanky getting away from all this stressy modern gadgetry and consumerfest frenzy etc etc. Not.
In fact, camping is a gear freak’s wet dream, which possibly explains why so many skiers and cyclists are into it. Ooh, shiny spangly gizmos! Lightweight gadgetry! Things which fold up! Gimme!! Yes, here are all my bank details and the deeds to my soul.
Last weekend’s healthy outdoor activities were somewhat curtailed following a mistake with a box of cheap Sauvignon on Friday evening and the following morning spent nattering over coffee, all of which resulted in getting to the chosen camping spot rather too late to do anything very significant. As a result, I found myself doing a tour of Briançon’s outdoor emporia with a vague headache, tempted by summer sales and completely ignoring the fact that a) I have no spare cash and b) I don’t need anything anyway. But let’s be honest, when has that ever stopped anyone buying a load of tat? It’s the zeitgeist innit, everyone’s doing it. Though you should probably note that the difference between you and, say, Greece is that the German taxpayer is likely to give you an unequivocal nein when you ask him to pay your Visa bill.
We all know perfectly well that all it takes to mount a successful camping weekend is a tent, a mattress, a coolbox and a sleeping bag. Yes it is. No, you do not need the mosquito net, first aid kit complete with ebola vaccine, and 85-piece picnic dinner set with wine cooler and cruet. There are two of you and you are camping in Wales.
But it’s hard to resist the pull of the retail addiction, and you can see the results on campsites all over Europe, not to mention at UK music festivals, which appear to have become an irritatingly middle class sort of trendy, necessitating Cath Kidston tents and wellies costing £200 a pair. Personally I like a camping experience which calls for flipflops, but each to his own.
The compulsive camping consumer comes in two sub-species: the Walter Mitty and the Closet Caravanner. Walter rolls up in his car and proceeds to unload the sort of tent you’d expect to find at Everest camp IV, a sleeping bag which packs down to the size of a matchbox and guarantees to keep you warm on the municipal campsite at Archangel in December, an array of tiny pots and pans and a Swiss Army knife three times the size of his tent. He then proceeds to get takeaway pizza and beer from the campsite restaurant before spending an uncomfortable night on his Inertia X-Frame sleeping mat. Walter would like to think of himself as a cross between Ranulph Fiennes and Bear Grylls, yomping his lone way from the Himalaya to the jungles of Borneo with all he needs in his trusty backpack. When in fact he pre-booked his stay on an Alan Rodgers recommended 3* site with English-speaking reception service six months ago just in case they might be full during the first week in June.
The Closet Caravanners come in pairs, sporting Howard and Hilda stylee his ‘n’ hers waterproofs, and driving huge people carriers as this is the only way they can cram in all the basic essentials. Their tent could sleep a family of six plus staff, and if they didn’t bring the kitchen sink it’s only because the Gelert fold-up washing up bowl is so much more technical. These people poo-poo the bar and takeaway, preferring to empty their portable fridge onto the foldaway table before rustling up a full three course meal on their four-burner cooker with windshield, grill and rotisserie attachment, then getting quietly sozzled and retiring for a good night’s sleep on their three-layer delux flocked airbed with built-in electric pump. As soon as they retire, Howard and Hilda will give in and buy an enormous caravan with an inappropriate brand name like ‘Marauder’, which they will store in a local farmer’s barn, annoying him every other Sunday morning by demanding that he move everything else in there so they can get it out and tinker with it pointlessly in the middle of his farmyard.
All these people have lost sight of the basic premise, which is that camping allows you to get out and about without spending unnecessary wedges of your hard-earned cash on mere accommodation, leaving you with enough to have fun every single weekend rather than saving up all year in order to go on holiday for one measly week, only to find that it rains on you for five days out of seven. So get a grip on your common sense, avert your eyes from the spangly array of ultra lightweight packable Agas with GoreTex awning and built-in barbecue, and get back to basics. You’ll have more fun, more often. And there’ll probably be less washing up.
This week’s camping spot: Le Champ de Blanc, Pramorel. Not easy to find, due to total lack of directions anywhere including their website. Turn right opposite Géant Casino and just before McDonald’s, but don’t expect any signposts.
Pitches: Large, grassy, mix of sun and shade. Not too rocky for a change. Ensuite grasshoppers for comedy value.
Facilities: None to speak of, apart from peace and quiet and a fantastic view across the Guisane valley.
Showers: Cute – old fashioned tiling, real shower curtains and a rack for your toiletry bottles. One size fits all water temperature.
Price: 13,20€ in high season for car, tent and one person.