A Totally Impractical Guide to Camping in England With a 4 Month Old Baby

Last weekend, we borrowed a car from our crunchy granola car-share group in Leicester and drove to somewhere in Derbyshire (pronounced, approximately, Darbəshr, in case you aren’t intuitively British*) in the cold, grey rain, for a fine weekend of family camping, frantic trail cycling (which we hiked at a leisurely pace) and multi-roomed tents more elaborate and spacious than a lot of flats I’ve lived in.

Also, sausages. And fish and chips wrapped in paper. And pints of ale at the pub in town.

Roughing it under chilly, leaden, sodden skies, with only warm shelter, hot food and good company for comfort.




Ashbourne: city of bunting and caravans.


Because this is England and it’s summer. Cast ne’er a clout til you’re out of the freaking country and on a flight to Spain**, as they say in local proverbial circles.

Because it was the end of June, we packed both thermals and shorts, fleece tops and sandals. Four massive umbrellas. Extra waterproof tarps. Rain gear. Folding table and camping chairs. Tableware and cutlery. A large thermos full of concentrated espresso to be thinned out with hot water as needed. Several large storage boxes full of washing up bowls and cloths and soap and tea towels and powdered milk for the coffee and home made muffins for tea time and bread knives and a big bag of various breads and buns. A large cooler full of fancy cheeses, Italian antipasti meats, bacon and sausages and eggs, garden lettuce and fresh cilantro and English cucumbers, complete with extension cord and a campsite with electrical plug-ins. A cool bag (non-electric) laden with a selection of Czech lagers, English ales and cheap supermarket wine. Tupperware for jalapenos and gherkins and butter (French, with salt crystals, from Fiona and family). Two disposable insta-light barbecues. A frying pan, spatula and jar of very nice olive oil.


tea and toys

La vie est dur.


One small wriggly teething baby (who howled from his car seat the whole way there but slept like the dead the whole way back) and all of his gear, allowing for all seasons and weather and methods of transport. Extra blankets, extra trousers, extra nappies and cleaning cloths and puke/drool rags. A selection of bizarre and probably German toys.



Continental breakfast chez Thwack


Somewhere at the back of my mind, I had a vague recollection of travelling by road through Central America for several months with just a half-full carry on bag and a lot of meals served in knotted plastic baggies, bought from street stalls and women with baskets full of pupusas on their heads, inching down the centre aisle of a paused bus, along with the guys selling bags of water and juice and fruit chunks. It seemed very far away.

The campsite was up a long, winding hill a few miles outside of the bunting-happy market town of Ashbourne, on the edge of the Peaks District, with a dozen well marked and well maintained walking and cycling trails leading off in all directions.

There were long, perfectly mown grassy fields of big, white caravans, some mounted semi permanently onto blocks and edged with portable gardens in big plant pots and collapsible decks and white picket fences and lawn ornaments. One field contained just a long row of identical holiday cottages (which could be yours for just 70,000 pounds). There was a grocery store, a children’s playground and a heated indoor pool. The showers in the immaculately cleaned sink-and-toilet building were hotter and stronger than the one we have at home. My Turkish-Chinese programmed brain automatically assumed they were squat loos at first (and so clean! and with doors!) until my baby-tired other brain quickly reminded me of the dozens of regular, western loos just off to the side. Disaster averted.


pot washing sinks

Pot Washing Sinks- the follow-up single to the Chemical Brothers’ late 1990s hit, Block Rocking Beats.


Over the course of the weekend, a number of people told us how amazed they were that we were brave enough to take a 4 month old baby camping with us. So challenging! So difficult! So complicated!

So not at all. Seriously.

I mean, really, not at all any of those things.

During the day, we plunked him on a blanket on the floor of the tent and he stared at the new surroundings while we had breakfast. Later, he could be passed around to all the cousins and aunts and uncles or plunked onto other blankets in other places to stare up at new things. When we hiked the trail into town, M. strapped him to his front and he fell asleep, drooling on his carrier. Sitting at the wooden table outside the pub in town after the hike, he fell asleep on my lap, under my scarf. During the day, I nursed him and changed him and played with him as usual. These actions are easily portable and adaptable. At night, I plunked him into his sleeping bag and he slept next to us on the camping mats, happily snuggled up close.


rainy tent

Roughing it with the urchin


If anything, the change of scenery, the extra hands and the surfeit of fresh air and (muted) sunlight made things easier than usual (less howling, for sure). But still, at the end of the third day, it was noted again, with some awe, that we had bravely taken our very small baby camping.

Wait til we tell them we’re moving to Vietnam in a few months with him.


photo 5

Hopefully Vietnam will be equally exhausting for him.


*These are the same people who giggle at my pronunciation of the ‘borough’ at the ends of place names like Loughborough as ‘burrow’, when it’s really just ‘brə‘ (in this case, Luffbrə, not Lockburrow as I’d incorrectly guessed).

**Actual proverb is Cast ne’er a clout til May is out, meaning don’t put away your winter wardrobe until Spring has safely passed and you won’t be caught shivering in your t-shirt before summer is in full swing. This, however, is bullshit, as winter never fully leaves, nor does spring, and summer is non-committal.

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About MaryAnne

I live in Hanoi. I used to live in Shanghai (hence this blog’s title) but I left in 2013. I tend to travel. I cook stuff. I read a lot. I try to scare myself silly with regularity. I write about it all. A lot.