Pint pots and porta-loos

I’m a fairly negative person. There are many things I consider significant irritations: being too thin; being cold (largely as a result of being too thin); mud; being rained on; needing to get up for a wee several times every night; being kept awake by others, whether through noise or fidget. So when it comes to holidays, you might assume that camping wouldn’t be my ideal option. And you’d be right. Unfortunately, though, when you’re a bit broke it is often the only option, and now Little Daughter is almost three I’ve decided I need to bite the bullet and take the family on a camping trip at some point this summer.

When the sun shines I love the idea of camping. I think about that refreshed, alive feeling you get when you unzip your tent in the bright, dewy morning after a night under canvas, about the kids running free and forgetting their iPods and Kindles, and about frying bacon and playing cards and sitting around strumming guitars. But then it comes down to it and I think – I wish there was a TV (just for the evenings, you understand). And a nice hot bath. And an in-tent toilet.

I did something terrible last time we went on a camping holiday. I was seven months pregnant with Little Daughter (quite how I survived seven nights on an airbed – which was already on a tilt because we’d pitched the tent on a slope – without entirely wrecking my poor back, I don’t know), and needed to wee what seemed like every few minutes. There was no way I was going to struggle to the loos ten times a night (it was bad enough wrestling the vindictive airbed and my husband out of the way just to get to my feet), so I decided it would be a good idea to wee in a plastic pint pot and then tip it out of the tent. To avoid the risk of anyone treading on the wee patch, I thoughtfully lifted the ground sheet as well, so the offending liquid was both out of sight and out of stepping range. All well and good, until the day we packed up the tent ready to go home and discovered a large patch of dead, blanched grass that stood out starkly white against the surrounding verdure. Clearly I had underestimated the toxic impact of seven nights’ worth of pregnant wee. Oops. We departed quickly.

Hopefully this time my nocturnal toilet situation will prove less extreme. And we’ve already had a trial run with the tent, which had spent the last three years in the leaky shed being rained on, at the Ely Folk Festival last weekend. No amount of praise I could heap on Ely would do it justice. If you’re a nervous would-be festival-goer who’s wondering about taking that first step; if you are intimidated by crowds and are repelled by too much mud, noise and stink, I’d definitely recommend Ely as a gentle, safe and very enjoyable introduction to the festival scene. You don’t even have to like folk music that much (though if you do, there are some real treats), as the definition these days is so far reaching you’re bound to stumble upon something you enjoy. And if listening is too passive you might prefer learning how to dance a ceilidh or play a dulcimer. For Big Daughter and me it was more about atmosphere, chilling out with extended family and friends and really unwinding.

For families Ely is simply perfect: the two main performance arenas are at either end of a large field, with smaller marquees, concessions stalls (there’s some lovely stuff) and food and drink vendors filling up the rest of the perimeter. This leaves a large space in the middle in which children remain in clear view, whether they want to have a go at various outdoor games on offer, such as hula hooping (which, incidentally, is not just for children – Alex’s aunt drew quite a crowd on Sunday with her party piece, hula hooping whilst swigging a glass of Pimm’s), decorate Jan’s hippie van with paint or chalk, do puzzles or attend one of the captivating story telling sessions. The festival itself is civilised, clean and well organised: there are stewards everywhere, the porta-loos are emptied and hosed down frequently, and everyone I have ever met there has been perfectly pleasant.

Helping decorate Jan’s van
Finding one's groove
Finding one’s groove

We were fortunate enough to receive complimentary tickets, courtesy of Alex’s dad who comperes at the festival, and with our financial situation as it is at the moment they were a most welcome gift. I was, however, concerned about the cost of food. I would highly recommend the food vendors – it’s all proper, decent nosh (Alex always raves about the goat curry) – but there was no way we were going to be able to indulge this year. So I stocked up on tinned food at Lidl. See? I told you I shopped at Lidl, just not all the time. For camping trips, however, it ranks head and shoulders above Tesco. I bought ravioli, chilli and noodles, and everything tasted delicious. I know food always tastes better outdoors, but still. Best of all, though, was tinned chicken curry which I almost couldn’t bring myself to buy, but I’m so glad I did. It was real chicken breast (not that horrible processed nugget crap) and there was absolutely nothing in there I didn’t recognise (chicken, tomatoes, yoghurt, cream – cream! – spices … even the colour was simply paprika). Heated up on our trusty camping stove and served over Lidl rice it genuinely did taste as good as the vendor food, but at less than a tenth of the price. And Alex made no complaint about his 90p Lidl real ales.

So with the laid back, sunshiney buzz of Ely still washing over me and the summer holidays beckoning, I’m ready to give a family camping holiday another go. I’ll just need to make sure we choose a pitch close to the toilets.

A cheerful and colourful festival-goer
A cheerful and colourful festival-goer
The spirit of Ely; all photos courtesy of ©William Lonsdale Photography