Saturday, 1 April 2017

Camping Fun

We LOVE camping... I love it most when it's an extra holiday, rather than our main family holiday, although we've done both in recent years... There's something great about spending time outside, getting tired when it gets dark and waking up in the natural light. Eating all your meals outside, and spending tech-free time with family and friends.

I also love the fact that it surprises people about me. I'm mostly highlights and Mulberry handbags, so people are often surprised by how much we like camping. It's way more middle class than you'd think - last year, I rolled my eyes (and was secretly a bit jealous) of the family with the bell tent, bunk beds, fairy lights, toadstools and bunting who pitched up on our site. Secretly, I'd quite like to live in a field and own a campsite, and I have been known to search on the internet to see if any are for sale!

Hopefully, some of this will be useful if you've never camped before, and the recommendations might be useful even if you have. Please do feel free to leave your own links and reviews to campsites, we love trying new (nice/middle class) places!

What you'll need:

A great campsite

Our favourite is Red Shoot, in the New Forest. As well as big clean open fields, there are decent, regularly cleaned shower blocks, including a family shower room and disabled facilities. There's also a laundry room and children's playground. It's in the middle of nowhere so it's very quiet, and there's a shop on site and a lovely pub right next door serving great food. Take (or hire) bikes and cycle (or walk) the 1.5 miles through the forest to High Corner, another pub, with great food, playground and beer garden. From the campsite, it's easy to get to the beach as well as into the forest and all the other local attractions such as Peppa Pig World and Monkey World. Visit Red Shoot's website here.

Holland's Wood, also in the New Forest, was great too. It's a massive site, owned by the Forestry Commission, with plenty of decent facilities. Because of the layout, on windy forest paths, it still feels more private than smaller sites on open fields despite the number of pitches. The site opens onto fields at one side, and you can easily walk into Brockenhurst and into the forest. It's the most 'foresty' place we've stayed, which is lovely for shelter but I reckon it might have the potential to be a bit shady in summer and muddy in spring... It's probably the most reasonable site we've stayed on, under $20 a night, you can check it out and book 
here. You can't reserve specific pitches here, so if you're going with friends, you need to get there at the same time, and arrive early, to be able to pitch together.


Sites shared with static caravans have advantages and disadvantages. In my experience, the facilities aren't that great AND the clientele have been pretty chavvy everywhere we've stayed. That is, a high proportion of noisy, drunk neighbours with scary dogs... The park at Kessingland was fine for a couple of days, but I wouldn't choose to go back there. Check it out here. It has an indoor and outdoor pool (the indoor pool was HEAVING on the day we went), and it was right on the beach - which is great if the weather's nice, but a bit windy for camping if it isn't so great. There was a lovely fish and chip shop nearby, and we also visted the most brilliant zoo, 
Africa Alive, which was amazing and I can't believe isn't better known. 

Birchington Vale, in Kent, had its pros and cons. It was in a great location, close enough to London for an easy weekend trip, and only a few minutes from the beach at Minnis Bay. It's got lots of facilities on site, including a pool, bar, shop and restaurant. There are a few bathrooms around the site, although they were all quite tired and dirty, and the swimming pool changing rooms were even worse, although according the response to my trip advisor review, the site has been recently taken over by another company and refurbished. The pitches themselves were large, clean and evenly spaced, and there are playgrounds and big open spaces for the kids throughout the site. You can read my trip advisor review here.

We also stayed on Spring Barn farm in Sussex, which I'm not disappoined to report is now closed: this site had decent sized, car-free fields with fire pits. Which is not as good as it sounds... We use the car for power, storage and a bit of privacy... And fire pits are way smellier and more dangerous than you'd think... Plus the owners were MEAN. I'd booked two pitches but for some reason, they forced us to share one between us, despite the fact we were virtually the only ones in our field.


Other essentials: A good tent

We started with a 6 man but have recently upgraded to an 8-man. Ours is called a Coleman Costline deluxe from 
Amazon and it was around $300. Ideally, you need a tunnel tent, one that's a continuous loop of fabric rather than one that pins down with a groundsheet, and one that you can stand up inside... No one wants to be crawling around all week. Also, if the weather is shit, one where there's space to sit inside is an advantage. We've recently started adding extra bits of kit... A groundsheet to keep the outside clean and a carpet for warmth. But none of those are essential.

I also take these fold down boxes from ikea... One for each of us to store clothes in, plus one for food, one for toiletries and one for shoes. This allows me to be some sort of organised!! 


Another family to camp with:

Camping with your family is a great bonding experience, but when it gets dark, there's not much else to do besides sit in the dark. For us, our friends are what really makes the experience. Making plans and hanging out for the day, and later, putting the kids to bed then staying up chatting. Not to mention, between you, you're bound to have everything you need... Last camping trip we pitched in a U-shape, which also created a fourth, living space which worked well.


Warm clothes

It can get really cold at night. When we camp at the end of May, I wear socks, leggings, vest, T-shirt and sweater. You'll also need wooly hats and gloves, just in case. My mid summer, it's usually warm enough to sleep in less... Plus wellies and/or crocs. Flip flops for the shower.

A sense of humour!!

A few of my favourite comedy camping moments include unplugging the washing machine in the laundry room to plug in my ghds and straightening my hair using the reflection from the washing machine drum (also, at the cinema, in a kids karate class, in the loo at the pub...). Also spending a lot of time walking the kids back and forth to the loo... And sitting outside the toilet block wondering yet again why this is a good idea. Unpitching the tent in under an hour when our Greek ex-army friend looked panicked for the first time ever as a storm closed in.

Some key equipment

Torches: Lanterns to hang in the tent, head torches for trips to the loo, hand torches for spares. Make sure you know where they are before it gets dark!!

A great air mattress and warm sleeping bag or duvet. We were lucky enough to be long-term gifted two sleeping bags from friends who'd been trekking in Nepal, which are suitable to -5 degrees. The overnight bags from Argos are NOT warm enough. You're better to take duvets, especially if it's your first trip... Also blankets, for sitting on, wrapping up in anger extra layers at night.

Camping table and chairs. You probably don't want to sit on the floor for a week!!

Good quality coolbox. Fill the bottom with ice and refill every day, keep in the shade and it will keep milk and meat fresh for long enough. Most importantly, you'll have chilled wine and ice for cider... Our first year, we bought a cheap one, which was definitely a false economy.

Plastic EVERYTHING. I don't want to spend ANY holiday washing up, least of all outside in a communal kitchen.

Kettle and stove.

Dustpan and brush

Flip flops. No matter how clean the showers, TAKE FLIP FLOPS

BBQ - ideally a small bucket one is better than disposable, it lasts longer for cooking on and you can use it every night... We keep kosher, so we take meat for BBQ with us... Take fresh meat for the first night and frozen for the second night (it should defrost just in time).


Other top tips

Car free sites aren't as good as they sound. We take a lot of kit, so schlepping it across a massive field from a car park is a bad plan. Your car can also be used for phone charging, storage - especially of empty suitcases, sleeping bag bags etc. It can also provide a natural barrier between other campers which offers a smidgen of privacy. 

Choose a good campsite, in a good location. Spend time researching. It's worth it.

If the weather looks really shit, cancel. Believe me, I've pitched a tent in the rain and it's not fun.


Thursday, 9 March 2017

My life: tracking out of control

There are (tens of) thousands of mobile apps available to track your life, and recently, I've become slightly addicted... I use at least three of these EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. I'm not sure how healthy it is to track everything this closely (which is ironic that I'm tracking my health, unhealthily...). Is it overkill? Let me know what you think.

Here are a few of my faves:

Strava - tracks running and cycling; user generated social feed; share to social.

At New Year's a friend planted an idea in my mind and I'm still trying to work out if it's achievable - to cycle 2017km in 2017. To save you the maths, that's 168km a month. Last summer, also using a Strava challenge, I cycled 250km in August (mostly between 6 & 7am around Fairlop Waters). So if I can manage 250k/month for the warmest/lightest summer months, that's only 127k a month for the remaining eight. I'm currently on 181km for the year, but I'm still optimistic that it's doable.

My Fitness Pal - calorie counter and nutrition; weight tracker; blog-style newsfeed (that I've never read)

I've been tracking my calories daily since 17th January - that's 53 days so far. I've been trying to stick to 1200 calories a day although some weeks have been better than others, and I've lost about 6lbs in total. My clothes feel a tiny bit looser and annoyingly, although my saggy tummy is still saggy, my hips might be a teeny tiny bit narrower. The main thing that I love about this app is that you can eat whatever you want (a bit like 'old' WeightWatchers). So if you only want your calories to come from wine and pizza, that's fine, but if you want to eat healthily, that's a good long term plan too. The app uses a bar code tool to find foods, and has literally every type of food saved, as well as most restaurant's menus and food types. I'm not being too fascist about this, so if I can only find a close equivalent, or I have to guess at how much my food weighs, it's not exactly the end of the world. The temptation, though, is to not include everything that I've eaten (I mean, no one saw me have a second slice of 7yo's birthday cake last night...), but if it's going to actually work, it's a good habit to get into.

Misfit Shine - wearable fitness tracker, tracks sports and sleep, links to app.

My lovely sister bought me this Swarovski Shine fitness tracker for my 40th birthday. IMO, it's by far the nicest looking wearable tracker, and although it's not quite as practical as some of the others, it has a few extra advantages once you get used to it. Firstly, it's waterproof so you can switch it onto a rubber strap, and it tracks swimming. Secondly, the crystal tracker pops out and tucks into your sock for cycling (which most wrist trackers struggle with, as you don't move your arms when cycling...). It also has pretty lights on it which show you how far you've gone, and tell the time. Pros: this tracker doesn't need recharging - it takes a swatch-like battery which is still on 3/4 after about two months. Cons: it could really do with a vibrating function seeing as it's linked to my phone anyway! This also tracks sleep, although I've never really found this useful...

*The six minutes awake were when the hamster woke up the furby who woke up the daughter who woke up the mother. FML

Clue - menstrual cycle tracker - can also be used to track fertility

I recently read that the Apple health tracker was designed to track every aspect of your life - except your menstrual cycle - which given that most women between about 14 and 50 menstruate regularly is proof if any was needed that it's still a man's world! This little app is absolutely brilliant for warning me when I'm due on, and I guess would also be great if I was thinking about fertility (I'm not)!!

Are there any other apps you would recommend? Let me know...