Magazine article The Spectator

To All in Tents

Magazine article The Spectator

To All in Tents

Article excerpt

THE reasons for not going on a camping holiday in August in the south of France struck me, as they will strike many readers of this magazine, with immediate and almost irresistible force. The Riviera is a long way to drive with a pregnant wife, two small children and a tent, at the very time that the French take in their millions to the road south. When at last we got there, we would find ourselves obliged to accept the last and least shady spot on a crowded campsite near, but not near enough, to the Mediterranean. Our few feet of withered grass would be unbearably hot, and most of our neighbours would be Dutch, who would spend all day making use of camping gear of such conspicuous ugliness as to destroy any vestiges of romance which might cling to the life of the vagabond, or to life among the French. We would meet our stalwart northern neighbours clad in plastic sandals in the ablutions block, rinsing dishes in cold water amid the smell of rotten duckboards, and would converse with them in English.

These and other negative thoughts I voiced, yet my wife spent some of her happiest holidays as a child under canvas in southern France, and for two years now we, too, have camped there and have greatly enjoyed ourselves. Should you find this unbelievable, so much the better. Europe does not need more campers.

The road problem was solved by going by train from London Waterloo to Montpellier, our luggage (tent, sleeping bags, stove, etc.) limited with some difficulty to 12 pieces. We stayed a night in a hotel in Montpellier and picked up a hire car. The heat problem was solved by camping about 3,000 feet up in the Cevennes, a couple of hours' drive to the north. These hills, which delighted Robert Louis Stevenson when he passed through with his donkey in 1878, are on the scale of the Scottish Highlands, but covered on all but the highest slopes in chestnut trees. It is Protestant country and it sometimes rains, which has the happy effect of driving away the many millions of tourists who demand uninterrupted sun. There are also wonderful thunderstorms.

The decision about where to pitch your tent is, it has to be admitted, of the utmost importance, though you can move on after a night if you blunder. Many campsites on the coastal plain look simply frightful. On the day we returned home via Montpellier the Midi Libre newspaper reported a fire near Perpignan which led to the evacuation of 3,000 campers from three adjoining sites and destroyed 13 mobile homes as well as 28 tents and caravans. …

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