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Page last updated at 06:09 GMT, Friday, 22 July 2011 07:09 UK
Happy glampers through the ages

The Citroen Trans-Asiatic Expedition or Croisiere Jaune Citroen.

Modern purists might bemoan the sight of campers with airbeds and kitchenettes, but history of camping is as filled with luxury and opulence as it is with muddy boots and beans served in the tin, writes Matthew De Abaitua.

The trend for "glamping", glamorous camping, is nothing new. In the Edwardian era, one camping party travelled with two tonnes of gear, including a harmonium, a telescope and biscuits by the crate.

Matthew de Abaitua shows Evan Davis how to put a tent up

Thomas Hiram Holding, founder of the Camping and Caravanning Club and author of the 1908 Camper's Handbook, is the grandfather of leisure camping.

He described an ideal family camp which "is on an island in a river. There was the eating tent, the sleeping tent, the servants' tent, the cooking tent for wet weather, and the overboat tent. Here the family and their servants were spending a 'savage' holiday."

Perhaps the first great glamper was Kublai Khan, grandson of Genghis. His stately palace of Xanadu was a sumptuous house of pleasure.

The palace combined the nomadic tradition of the Mongol ger or yurt with the settled architecture of North China. It stood for three months of the year and was secured by guy ropes, a pleasure dome tent, if you will.

But it even ferociously hairy US frontiersmen thought of camping as something of a luxury. Horace Kephart, a great US woodsman, used to take olive oil, pasta and foie gras paste into the wild.

In the words of 19th Century American camper Nessmuk: "We do not go to the green woods and crystal waters to rough it, we go to smooth it."

Australians rest around their campfire in the Australian bush.
Even hardened woodsmen enjoy their creature comforts

Indeed, one of the pleasures of camping is combining civilisation with nature.

In the words of the US poet Ralph Waldo Emerson: "We flee away from cities, but we bring the best of cities with us." Although the "best of cities" he was referring to was the intellect of his camping companions - not indoor plumbing.

Happy camping

The art of camping lies in taking enough gear to make the camp comfortable but not so much that it becomes a burden.

Getting away from the domestic habit of four walls to sleep under the stars makes the mind more receptive to nature. If you pack too much of the domestic realm in your kit bag, then you will miss out on the intensity that comes from being close to the land.

Kewati nomads clear out their homes
The art of enjoying life in a tent is to take just the luxuries you need

The return of glamping is also a response to austerity. People who, in the economic boom, may have enjoyed city breaks or expensive hotels are trading down to camping, and bringing their unreasonably high expectations with them.

The same thing happened in the 1970s during the oil shock. Middle-class families turned to camping but with a twist. They wanted the tents pre-pitched in luxurious locations in the South of France and Eurocamp was born.

But the basic appeal of camping endures. It is very cheap - once you've bought or borrowed the gear, the cost is low compared to other holidays.

My grandfather, a gas fitter from Bootle, took his family camping on his motorcycle and sidecar. Even when I had children, I took them camping by public transport.

Whereas my parents took us camping in the South of France, the return of camping is has become focused on holidaying in Britain.

Spanish demonstrators take part in some city camping
You can even camp in the city, if you don't mind the hard floors

As well as the price of the euro, Britain has an advantage over Southern Europe in that many of its campsites allow campfires. The ability to set and sit around a fire makes all the difference.

I cook on my fire. It takes the dampness out of air and makes sitting around at night into a magical experience. Sitting in a circle around the campfire is a symbol of equality. The hierarchy of the town and city life is suspended, if only for a weekend.

For me, camping is a tame adventure for the family. As the scout motto has it, preparation is crucial. As is patience.

There is no virtue in hardship, you don't need to make camping difficult for yourself. The British weather will do that for you.

Matthew De Abaitua is the author of The Art of Camping: The History and Practice of Sleeping Under the Stars. A map of UK campsites that allow campfires, is available on his website.




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