Cotton sheets, or sleeping bag? Has glamping really become a leisure habit, or is it a trend heading south?

Origin: early 21st century: blend of glamorous and camping = glamping.

How fickle is the camping consumer? Has glamping really become a leisure habit, or is it a trend heading south?

I have done my fair share of mainly conventional camping in the UK and abroad, the sight of a tent peg doesn’t turn me cold, but strangely when I say I am going camping, it is automatically assumed that it’s really glamping that I’m doing. Is this because a) I don’t seem like the camping type or b) camping is only for students and festival goers?

Camping in the UK has undergone a renaissance in the past few years, fueled by a deep recession that resulted in holiday makers seeking cost-effective options closer to home to which the market responded with a much-hyped trend for glamorous camping. Defined by an optimistic Oxford Dictionary as an informal British noun – a form of camping involving accommodation and facilities more luxurious than those associated with traditional camping: glamping is likely to satisfy any city slicker seeking a little refuge in nature—without foregoing any of life’s luxuries. 

As long as they don’t mind the unpredictable weather, other campers or the state of the toilets as they can all so easily make make or break any future visits – luxury or not. 

Gone are the days when you were shown a field by a busy farmer who didn’t really care what you did, as long as you pitched close (and formed a neat line around the edge of the field), didn’t set fire to the neighbours, didn’t mind their belching and farting, were happy to forego a hot shower and if you were really lucky, the toilets didn’t resemble something from the Victorian era. This would explain why my camping CV has a 15-year gap. 

According to VisitEngland, in 2010, there were 17.3m trips of all kinds to the English countryside, including 10m holiday trips, with British holiday-makers spending £2bn on these trips, up 13 per cent on the pre-recession 2006–08 annual average. In 2009, there were a record 10.9m holiday trips. There were also 12.12m camping and caravanning trips in England by Britons, worth £1.68bn in overall spend. This included 3.3m countryside holidays, worth £370m in spend and 5.2m seaside holidays, worth £855m. It’s a big market.

I won’t second-guess what the 2013 season will be like, as it follows a ‘staycation trend’, and unusual 2012 that will have boosted all camping statistics with sites busy in and around the various Olympic venues and a host of new suppliers entered the market, including, a novel accommodation idea, but will it sustain it’s growth this summer and the next?

I have tried glamping, staying on a farm at the bottom of a very muddy slope in a Tipi. The toilets were at the top of said slope, which if you picked your way carefully through the clumps of grass, would be almost slip-free. Tipi’s are more traditionally associated with Native Americans, who found them portable, warm and functional, which is the experience I was hoping in part, to recreate. The weather didn’t help and my memories of that trip will always be our valiant 3am efforts to keep the fire from going out …but with rain pouring in through the smoke vent, meant staggering around in the lashing rain, trying to move two 25 foot long lodge poles in an attempt to close the smoke flaps. We got wet. Very wet. And cold. Did I say cold? The weather was against us, but this is Britain, not the south of France, so being prepared is an essential part of any camping experience. We left early, our wallets much lighter and vowed as we drove south never to repeat the experience. 


Don’t be fooled by pretty pictures!

This weekend however, we spent conventionally camping at a lovely site that is in it’s third year of operation. Run by a keen-to-get-it right meticulous owner, I would suggest if her model were followed, camping (and perhaps glamping) does have a bright future. The site is in a prime, flat, water-front location on her family farm, so peaceful, you would think you really were miles away, in France perhaps. Not a scrap of rubbish from the previous occupants, restricted numbers, considerate positioning of larger tents to ensure we all had a river view, no cars allowed on site (although the Sunday morning pack-up felt like the equivalent sun-lounger race for the wheelbarrows), compost toilets rather than horrible portaloo’s, hot showers, the first campsite with comprehensive waste recycling I have seen anywhere, rustic wooden sleeping pods if you can’t face the brailing loops or guylines, competitive pricing, a visit from the owners to make sure all was well, abundant birdlife that collectively sang their little hearts out all weekend – including a couple of swans and family of ducks who tried to join us for recreational games on the lawn!

All of this represents excellent service and great value for money. Call me a traditionalist, but I don’t need the lure of an expensive bell tent with cotton sheets to get me out into the great British countryside. With my brolly and wellies packed. Just in case.

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