Golden nights under canvas

Celeste gives up on the sea at Shingle Street beach in Suffolk.

Camping is great, if you do it properly. I know the part about it being cold and uncomfortable, the shared loos, and the dirt.  Elodie has a long list of why she doesn’t like it, a carbon copy of the one my mother used through our childhood. My Dad had been a boy scout and tried to convert my mother. He managed to get her to go once when I was about eight to St Jean de Luz, but it failed to convince her of the joys. He mentioned it today when they dropped in on their way home after a couple of weeks across the Channel.

“Do you remember how it never stopped raining?” he asked.

Strangely, I don’t remember a drop.  What I remember is fantastic spy games with new friends in the campsite, eating delicious tinned stew in the sunshine outside our tent, going with my sister Dido to buy baguette every morning with our rudimentary French, and the giant waves of the Atlantic.  We went a second and final time but this time without without my mother, up in the Lammermuir hills which were a few miles from our house in Scotland.

This time I remembered how we pitched our tent in a downpour. It was my grandfather’s tent from before the war – the type that if you touched on the inside, water would pour through the canvas. And it continued to rain.  My father organised us into playing a tracking game, then tried to light a fire.  Of course the wood was too wet, so instead of hot baked beans on toast we ate cold baked beans on bread, inside the tent.  I remember the rain that time, because it made the adventure.

We went camping this weekend with a group of other families.  It’s an annual event that’s all about choosing a brilliant location to enjoy fabulous food and drink around a campfire in wonderful company.  It has to have space for the children to make their own adventures in between huge games of drunken (drunken on our part obviously, not theirs) rounders. Last year we were in Oxfordshire, close to the Uffington White Horse, but this weekend it was Suffolk.

It’s always poignant for Steph and me, heading along this stretch of coast. We were on holiday in Southwold when Juliette became ill for the last time, and the route takes you past the turning to Ipswich Hospital, the awful place where she left us.

We never took her camping, but I know Juliette would have loved it. She loved being outdoors and had such a radar for fun, out of the ordinary events. It would have fulfilled her constant plea to “do something exciting.” I thought of Juliette often over the weekend.  Olive is fourteen and one of the two teenagers with us. She was due to be born in March 1997, like Juliette, but arrived three months early. I remember meeting her as a tiny little scrap of six months, while Juliette was a robust and chunky three months.  At the time I thought of the trauma her parents had been through, and felt almost embarrassed at how healthy Juliette looked. Over the weekend I wondered whether Olive and Juliette would have been friends. 

The rain all through Friday night disturbed us slightly, and we were glad of our almost waterproof gazebos as we finished breakfast on Saturday morning, but after the skies cleared the eighteen of us set off for a walk to Shingle Street beach. After a meandering three or four miles we arrived at this oddly desolate place.  The only buildings for miles other than a handful of Martello towers built to repel the dastardly Napoleon in the early nineteenth century, were the line of coastguard cottages on the shingle.

Celeste strode down to the distant sea with her friend Harvey, despite the miles they had just walked. The rest of us concentrated on refuelling with snacks and wondered where the nearest pub was to break the return journey.

I said to Steph tonight that these are the sorts of times our children will look back on. Childhood memories are viewed through a filter, and I hope it’s a happy one. Perhaps they won’t even remember the rain.

Leaving Shingle Street to find a pub, Martello tower on the left in the distance.

6 thoughts on “Golden nights under canvas

  1. Magical weekend. Juliette would have loved it indeed. I love the isolation of places like Shingle Street – desolate but so open it feels like the edge of the world, although a pub would have been nice too… maybe a caff on top of a Martello Tower – great views?!I recall much rain, and moles popping up, in a tent in a field in France when I was about 7, and summoning up the nerve to ask for 'du glace s'il vous plait' to keep the milk cold. Still remember it as a great adventure. Reckon Olive and Juliette would have enjoyed each other's company, as did all the children, and the adults. I'll certainly remember the hail storm, the chickens, the great campfire chat and the 9.66 [tbc] miles!Sx

  2. Beautiful photo and your post brings back lots of my own memories of camping (I don't remember rain either!). My own happy childhood memories make me feel sad as I was looking forward to reliving them all over the coming years. I'm sorry Juliette and Katie will never go

  3. Lovely post Geves – especially like the pic of Celeste – maybe I am over-egging the pie, but as echoes of Juliette and what might have been invade your thoughts, perhaps you also wondered that if things had been different, perhaps Celeste wouldn't be there at all…..We went camping once with C – up on loch Tay. I have a scrap book – full of pictures and momentos, all marked up "Catherine's First Camping Trip". It was also her last. We bought al the kit especially – I envisaged lots of happy w/es in the Lammermuir hills or the like… and they didn't happen. But maybe they will – just not like how I expected. xx

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