Buying our last tent was done out of necessity rather than true desire, mainly because we figured that it was going to be hard camping with a baby in our Vango Delta which required one to get in on your hands and knees. But we didn't really think it through as carefully as we should have, probably because we didn't really know much about camping with babies and definitely had never considered taking something so ludicrous as a travel cot with us. Basically our hearts have never been in big tents - we've always been light-weight on equipment (we never had camping chairs until Nathaniel was imminent), and the idea of sleeping in a nylon palace rather than a luxurious bivouac didn't really appeal.
But it became apparent this year that getting two adults, one growing Nathaniel and one Adama (who would probably also grow) into our tent, was going to get a bit tricky.
So we started looking at other tents. We spent hours on the internet, and ages sniffing around other people's tents at campsites. We went along to a proper outside tent exhibition and climbed into tens and tens of tents. And while this was great fun (Nathaniel enjoyed counting the bedrooms, finding the built-in storage and unzipping all the electric hook-up zips and pulling tufts of grass through), we never found a tent that we wandered into and felt at home. In fact, the tents we liked the most were little low ones, much like our very old ones, and we found ourselves pondering how soon we could have one little tent for us and one for the kids.
And then the internet struck. And I saw a bell tent on someone's website. And was smitten. And I showed Ian, sort of as a joke, and he became more obsessed than I was.
We dutifully kept looking at modern tents, but none of them matched up. We started pacing out its footprint in other tents and obsessively observing living arrangements, and came to the conclusion that we had entered the realm of the yogurt-weavers, and nothing except a Baden-Powel worthy canvas monster was going to satisfy us.
So we bought it, immediately put it up in the garden, and instantly it was perfect.
So this weekend we took it for it's first outing. Just up to the moors, to a little campsite on a farm with room for only a few tents (a good antidote for the Butlins-for-Boden we visited in Rutland), and played.
It was perfect. We have been broken records with our exclamations of "I love our bell tent!"
It's made out of polycotton, so its lighter than canvas (just!), and is light and airy and aesthetically pleasing inside. It takes just 15 minutes for one person to put up on their own (and that was just the first attempt!). It has no bedrooms, so camping is a proper communal activity, just as it ought to be. Privacy in a tent is an illusion, so why not stop trying?!
I thought I was over-indulging my kiln-coveting tendencies by making bunting out of scraps of old pyjama, outdoor cushion and ian's shirt material (thank you Mf for all the bits and advice!), but it is lovely, and makes the tent feel all cosy and festive.
Nathaniel thinks the whole thing is brilliant and saying "I like the bunting - I like the stripy flags. I like the bell tent!", and we have found that unlike a nylon tent, sitting inside somehow feels like sitting outside. We have so enjoyed actually being inside it, which is very weird.
While on the moors, we forayed across the purple-heathered high moor to the North Yorks Steam Railway at Grosmont and spent a happy day watching steam trains and visiting their workshop.
Its been pretty much a year since we went there last, and Nathaniel's enthusiasm hasn't wained, though he is still somewhat alarmed by the volume. It took about 10 minutes before he would venture out of the doorway of the waiting room and then would only sit on a bench away from the tracks next to a parent.
He did get as far as standing on the platform, but he still insisted on an arm wrapped around him at all times, and when Ian suggested that the train might sound it's whistle, he ran as fast as he could back to his doorway!
On Saturday evening, the forecast drizzle appeared and we took the opportunity to experiment with our awning......!
Yes, it's pretty much the same size as the tent, and probably a bit overkill. But it is beautiful as well, and will be very useful when camping in the rain to create a bivouac to sit in of an evening around a campfire. We spent a long time investigating various arrangements of poles and guy ropes.
This morning was exactly how camping should be. Warm and sunny and beautiful, and we sat in our doorway (handy to have a bit of insulation so that we didn't wake everyone else at 7 in the morning), and ate bagels and watched the cows. It was very pretty.
Striking camp was so quick - much quicker than with a giant nylon tent with more poles than brains. It helped that Nathaniel took himself quietly into the car, put on his favourite CD (alarmingly, Toby Keith - a patriotic American country singer!) and sat reading his vehicle book.
Then we went for a walk/scooty bike along the Cleveland Way past some rather fine fishpools created by the monks of Rievaulx.
And no walk is complete without compulsory splashing and throwing stones into a stream. We could have stayed there for hours.
We had the country's second best fish and chips and an ice cream in Helmsley and then headed home, feeling as if we had had a relaxing week away rather than just a brief weekend. Everyone is smiley and happy and looking forward to next weekend's adventure in the bell tent - Nathaniel's first festival.
Watch this space!