Suzanne Harrington: Going from Bear With to Bear Grylls

Bringing a novice camping can result in endless questions and quite a bit of panic.
Suzanne Harrington: Going from Bear With to Bear Grylls

I am taking someone wild camping who has never been camping, wild or otherwise, because they are an urban metrosexual whose idea of getting back to nature is walking past a florist. They – he - wants to know the postcode and WIFI password of the wilderness, and is having a panic attack about footwear, rainwear, hypothermia, heatstroke, drought, being eaten feet first by badgers. “Bear with,” he says, with magnificent understatement. “I’m not Bear Grylls.” So many questions. What will we eat? How will we see? Are badgers really carnivorous?

Sometimes I forget that not everyone loves camping. Or that some people have never even tried it, which in my mind is like saying you’ve never had pizza or seen Star Wars. Yet such individuals – Bear With - exist. Refugee friends I met in the tent city of the Calais Jungle, now safe in the nearby city with a roof finally over their heads, look horror struck at the idea of recreational camping – why would anyone ever want to sleep outdoors if they don’t have to?

Coming as I do from a family for whom camping is viewed as a pursuit for the terminally insane or the tragically impoverished – or both - and from a cold wet island that, pre-climate change, made the idea of tents about as alluring as nits, I was a late starter. Like fireworks and secularism, camping wasn’t really a thing in Ireland. Losing one’s camping virginity to the mud of Glastonbury while on a maiden mushroom voyage is something that stays with you. The flashbacks weren’t so much psylocibin as PTSD.

But that was years ago, when glamping was still the preserve of Muammar Al-Qadhdhafi. These days, a camping veteran, it’s all about roomy, elegant bell tents, airbeds, wood burners, fairy lights; the times of sleeping in a leaky two-man with a broken zip, no torch and Monster Munch for breakfast are long gone. Too old. In middle age, hip joints are things you take care of, rather than places you seek out – which makes camping all about birdsong, serenity, elderflower cordial and zen-like communing with nature from the comfort of a decent camping chair. The only mushrooms are porcini in the risotto. If I were on Instagram, I’d make you sick.

That said, it’s still wild camping. There are no shower blocks. We will be doing what bears do in the woods. Will this be the undoing of Bear With – will he scarper for the nearest concrete conurbation, screaming for a cappuccino and indoor plumbing? Or will we sidestep the issue by heading to the nearest outpost under the guise of reupping supplies, and delicately parking next to the local public conveniences?

These are the things you must think about when taking a newbie camping. You don’t want to freak them out, put them off, or end up paying for their therapy. You want them to have fun. After a few days outdoors, Bear With gets his Bear Grylls groove on. He’ll be bivouacking next.

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