I used to camp loads when I was younger. I had a little tent that I backpacked round the world with, free camping by glaciers and lakes. Then when the kids were younger we got a family sized tent with a carpet and I shouted “shoes off” every 15 minutes in an attempt to keep the mud out, only to be defeated by a New Forest pony with very muddy hooves that popped in to say hi.
But, as I’ve got older, I find it harder work, and the tent has been in the attic for a couple of years now.
So when I left it too late to book a hotel or B&B for a big family gathering during Victoria week in Ballater, I googled campsites a little nervously. Then I stumbled across a nearby glamping site that actually had spaces, Howe of Torbeg. Camping with a bit more luxury and less mud. I’ve never glamped. I’m not a camping purist, I just never got round to it.
It’s actually only been open two months, and, as it turns out I was one of the very first people to book. Although the owners have lived here for five years, levelling the steep slope enough to build the huts on was a massive construction project. And they’ve done it beautifully. Four cute as a button domed wooden huts.
Ours even had a proper, very comfortable, bed. And I used to think my tent carpet was luxury.
DS was on the floor on a midget sized mattress. His feet stuck over the end, but he slept like a log anyway.
Each hut has its own fire-pit and picnic bench with uninterrupted views over the valley. They sell baskets of logs and charcoal, plus you can hire crockery and cutlery sets for a few pounds which definitely beats paper plates.
Having said “we’ll never use all these” as we collect the huge basket of logs, we do. It’s too lovely an evening to retire early. DS collects fallen branches and twigs from the woods.
If you worry about campsite facilities, don’t. The shower block was immaculate, better than many hotels I’ve stayed in. Again, for a few pounds we added a towel pack rather than bring our own.
Even my non-camping sister, staying in a nearby hotel with her four-poster bed, was impressed. Next year I think I could persuade her to join us. Even if just for one night. My tweenage nieces are definitely up for it. At worst I get “best aunty/ sister” points for taking them for a night.
Far easier than camping
Literally none from my perspective.
There was virtually no internet so I expected some teenage grumbling. I was wrong. I confess I was surprised by that, but not going to complain.
In future, I predict a downside will be getting a space. Book early!
I’m now tempting myself with a treehouse and DS fancies staying in a double decker bus … Why are there never enough weekends in a year?
But does glamping still count as camping? Even allowing for the glamorous bit, our little hut is so close to being a holiday cottage I’m not sure. I’ve decided glamping is where you still need to walk outside to get to a bathroom and may encounter patches of mud. Does that mean our grandparents glamped all year?
“What? You’re packing for him?” My mother is outraged. “You packed all your own stuff for a holiday from when you were nine and it was perfect.”
Perfect? Really? I have no recollection of ever packing myself, or being praised for it.
I’m always puzzled when I see people dragging vast suitcases at the airport. What have they got in there? I can’t imagine taking so much stuff for a week on a beach? Skiing, yes. Camping, yes. But a week in Spain? I’m not actually sure I own that much summer clothing. I’ve even packed my espresso machine and my bag is still smaller. Actually I would trade a pile of dresses just to make space for the espresso machine if it came down to it.
I’m a member of a great decluttering group on Facebook who were lamenting the challenges of packing. They were shocked when I said my last trip was ten days and I travelled hand baggage only and that included my horse riding helmet. And a pair of boots. And my espresso machine. So I guess I pack light.
Anyway, it’s all granny’s fault that the kids are packing for themselves this year. I’m off duty.
“Everything’s packed mum.”
DS Trip 1
A quill pen and bottle of ink
A wooden treasure chest
It’s all very neatly packed in a 5 inch metal dinosaur tin. Even by my standards, that is extremely light packing.
DS Trip 2
Mouse for the home computer
Pillow. Apparently this is not negotiable, it is coming with us. Does it count as an item of hand baggage itself? Otherwise I’m going to be impersonating a pregnant lady through check-in.
Flip flops. We’re off on a family trip to the north of Scotland. I add a raincoat.
Cropped vest top – striped
Cropped vest top – ribbed
Cropped vest top – sparkly
Denim mini skirt
Yup this is for the Scotland trip too. The midges are going to have a field day. I almost comment on the scant size of the clothing but then realise I am turning into my mother, so bite my tongue.
Top tips for light packing
My three top light packing tips would be
Pick a colour scheme so you can mix and match.
Throw things out/ give to charity when you finish. I don’t bring flip flops home at the end of summer as they are inevitably on their last legs by then. Ditto t-shirts and sun dresses that I know I will replace next year.
Accessories allow you to change the look. I love my jewellery pouches. I actually have two – a larger one for city breaks and a smaller one for outdoorsy trips.
Would you trust the kids to pack for themselves?
What’s the strangest thing you (or they) have packed? I once took an anchor instead of a suitcase on a flight. That got strange looks when it arrived on the luggage belt in Turkey.
It’s only the first week of the school holidays and DS has a full schedule of gaming planned. Tactics for detaching teenage DS from his gadget need to be more cunning. A spot of googling later, and I have an idea.
Me: “Shall we go for a walk?”
Me: “Do you fancy trying orienteering?”
Me: “Have you seen the App called Geocache?”
Quick text to the grandparents to announce my success. Turns out they know all about geocaching. I’m going to assume I’ve had my head under a rock for the last decade but, just in case anyone else managed to miss it, Geocaching is a global online treasure hunt. No gadget detachment required. And it’s free to join in.
All you need to do is download the App onto your phone and off you go. Perfect.
So off we went.
Then back home we went.
You also need a pen and a stash of small toys/ trinkets.
DS is thoroughly enjoying himself. His nose is two inches from the screen so he may be missing the scenery, but he has map read, used a compass (albeit a virtual one), and hiked for four hours without even realising it. Virtual trophies mean the gaming addiction of always needing to reach the next “level” has kicked in. Currently Geocache are running a “Hidden Creatures” event where you get a Bigfoot for finding one cache, Unicorn for five caches, a Kraken for seven caches etc. So instead of just doing two or three caches, we’ve done seven, including retracing our steps a few times when we (he) lost the path.
This little chap from a great cache is about to travel 600 miles to be re-hidden in Scotland.
Some of the caches are literally the size of a fingernail. Needle in a haystack anyone?
By mid afternoon, I’m carrying the dog (he clearly needs to up his fitness) and have realised flip-flops were not the best choice of footwear.
DS wants to go on. Iced coffee wins. Plus the dog is actually quite heavy.
I’m feeling quite experienced here and ready for the hike: I’ve got my pen, sensible shoes, and the dog is staying at home. Then DS raises the bar. Premium membership unlocks more challenges. He starts babbling about multi-caches and earth-caches for only £4.99 a month, or 12 months for £24.99. At just over £2 a month, I’m happy to take out a year’s membership based on the enthusiasm yesterday and the fact we can use it next week when we visit family in Scotland. Now he’s armed with the Premium membership whilst I have the Basic (free) one.
So today he logged eight caches, whilst I’m only able to log four. Cue much gloating that he reached the Sphinx souvenir level and I only got to Mermaid.
I know we’ve only just broken up, but I want to buy new school shoes before they sell out of every sensible/ acceptable (depending on your perspective) style. So we’re doing an urban trail at the same time. This means we need to not look suspicious to “Muggles”. I now understand why people always seemed to be lurking around particular lamp posts in the town centre.
DS misreads a set of instructions as “Need to rummage in bins” causing me to grab his phone. Luckily, I confirm it actually says “No need to rummage in bins.” The bin men, taking a tea break on a bench, very kindly ask DS if he’s lost something as he crawls beneath the bench. Turns out they like Geocaching too.
By the time I’ve lugged the school shoes half way round town, I need coffee. DS discusses Geocaching with the waitress. Seriously, am I the only person in the country who didn’t know about this? And I’m not sure the shoes fit. I think DS was in a rush to find the next cache.
The good things
Suitable for all ages
Basic membership is free. My recommendation would be this is more than enough if you have younger children. The Premium challenges can take ages – the one in Chichester Cathedral took us about an hour – but for teenagers, I reckon the more complex puzzles are well worth the investment.
Stealthily educational, particularly at the Premium level. We did an earth cache which required the identification of various types of rocks in a church wall – is limestone sedimentary (which I misread as “sedentary” but I think I got away with it) or igneous? Whoever created the cache had provided loads of information and pictures.
Drains phone batteries faster than I drink espresso. We took a phone on full charge plus a spare battery charger pack and totally drained it too. I was worried that it would be heavy on our data allowance (recalling a scary phone bill after an afternoon Pokemon hunting in the park a while ago), but actually it hardly used any. DH says that’s because it’s using the GPS system or something like that. No idea why that would make a difference but I’m happy enough to just nod.
Empty caches. This seems to be more of an issue at the Basic level. Sadly, some people haven’t understood the concept of replacing whatever you take out with something of equal, or higher, value. When we found these, DS decided to put a small toy in the cache so any younger child who comes along after us isn’t disappointed.
Rubbish hints. Some of the hints are great, often cryptic (“I’m always looking at you, but you can call me rocky”) or sneaking in more stealth education (“find the sycamore tree”). Others just say “It’s on the signpost, LHS” which isn’t exactly a hint, is it?
A simple shopping trip will take five hours.
Overall, a massive hit for all of us, except the dog. You’ve probably been geocaching for years but if, like me, you somehow missed it, this is a superb kids activity. And I really need to say a huge thanks to everyone who takes to time to create and maintain their routes.
Do let me know if you’ve had a go. Do you agree with the Premium version really being for older kids/ grown ups?
Top advice for authors usually includes “Write about what you know” – well I know nothing about smuggling, but I do know a lot about sailing so that’s where the whole idea for The Relic Hunters started.
Finn and Aria’s boat is based on a real boat, Indianna. We anchored next to Indianna in a small bay in a Greek island and started chatting to the owners, Roger and Anne. They lived aboard Indianna with their two dogs, Indi and Sollie. The story is that one day, after (quite) a few lunch time drinks, they decided to quit their jobs and buy a boat. Sailing round the UK while they were learning the ropes seemed a sensible idea given they were both novices, but this was in January. Unsurprisingly, a couple of hundred miles north, Anne announced “if you don’t turn this boat and head somewhere warmer, I’m getting off.” And that started a nine year trip through the Mediterranean.
Indianna is a lovely ketch – solidly built, with beautifully varnished woodwork down below and a deep cockpit.
Sailing gives a wonderful freedom to choosing your location. The first book, Eternal Seas, starts in a lush tropical island, passing through some ports with bustling bazaars, before returning to the rugged islands off the north west coast of Scotland via London.
None of the locations are real, but they are all based on actual places.