For the past three summers we have crammed our tiny car with camping equipment and travelled 350 miles down to the tip of Cornwall, the end of the land. We have set up camp with a group of five or so families, about 20-odd kids between us, in a field overlooking the sea. For two weeks, the children have spent their days free in the field, while us adults have looked forward to our evenings huddled warm around the fire, beneath the vast star speckled sky.
The first few days I curse myself for what I’ve let myself in for again, when I trip over a full potty in the tent or can’t find my bloody bra in the vast pile of books and clothes, but on around day three it’s all forgotten as I rise from a deep sleep and fleetingly wonder when my children got up and where they might be out there, wandering from tent to tent to say hello to their neighbours, or making new friends down by the shower block. At times all us adults have said: it’s great for the children, but I increasingly realise how it’s also good for us.
Each year the kids know their way around more, know their friends better and have grown in confidence and social skills and so each year they drift further away from us and … actually sometimes leave us alone. That’s not to say that there is space left to read and write and sunbathe – that’s the problem with camping, there is always something to do, whether it’s the washing up or tidying the tent, or finally getting that shower. But camping is a lesson in slowing down: learning to accept the midnight walk across the field to the loo, the morning traipse to get water, to wash up a coffee cup before you’ve even begun to attempt to light the temperamental stove in the whipping Cornish winds. Most mornings we didn’t get to leave the field until almost midday, when we’d spend the afternoon at one of the local remote beaches.
But as the kids get older, it’s also a lesson in fitting in things you need to do. Making the holiday more your own. Last year I finished writing the first draft of my second novel while sitting on the headland watching the sea glitter beneath me, this year I started most days with a hilly, bristly run along the coastline. I also thought to myself, wouldn’t it make an epic novel, this setting, this seascape, the same families coming together year after year, the changeable weather, the beautiful skies; children growing into adolescents, their relationships drifting or deepening. Wouldn’t it be fascinating?