We camped. We pitched the tent, it didn't fall down on us in the night, we didn't lose any of the children, the sun shone all weekend, and, a small personal triumph, I managed to keep two pints of milk cool in my coolbag-within-a-coolbag setup for the entire weekend.
For our first excursion we tagged along with friends to a campsite in the Forest of Dean, a mere 25 minutes drive from home, so easily do-able on a Friday night after school. It was a nice length of trip for trying out camping for the first time, and we knew that if the worst came to the worst, we weren't far from home! But we didn't forget anything, there were no gale-force winds, just a blissful weekend of free-range children, general outdoorsiness, and eating a lot of food.
What I learned:
- A good mother should not laugh when, just as she's finished saying, 'now careful you don't fall over the guy ropes', there's a huge thunk, and she turns to see her eldest lying on the ground almost winded, having tripped over said guy ropes. And she absolutely should not laugh when, just as she's dusting down the daughter, she reminds the son, 'now mind you don't trip over the guy ropes like your sister just did' only to hear another thunk and find her son spreadeagled on the ground with a bleeding lip. It turns out that I am not such a good mother.
- Anything tastes nice when you cook it outdoors, even one-pan beans and bacon with unexpectedly-crispy fried eggs. It might not look elegant, but it tastes amazing. Best meals? Gnocchi with a jar of tomato sauce (ready in ten minutes if the gas stays lit, on which see below), and campfire pizza made from wraps loaded with tomato and cheese and rolled up before being barbecued in foil.
- You can very easily cater for a family of five for a weekend with just a single gas ring, but it'll be a lot quicker if you have a windbreak to stop the gas from blowing out every five minutes.
- Children can cope with late nights, early mornings and lots of fresh air, but it will probably catch up with them sooner or later.