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Sunday March 23, 2014

Are camping holidays all they're cracked up to be?

Whether prompted by the state of the global economy, the British trend for ‘glamping‘ holidays or a wish to embrace nature in the raw, I cannot say, but recently I have received a flurry of enquiries from Britons about camping in Majorca. Now why these good souls should think that I – of all people – have positive and precious pearls to scatter on the subject is baffling in itself.

As a child, when classmates chatted excitedly about spending summer holidays at Pontins, Butlins or with benevolent grandparents in Bournemouth or Cornwall, I’d listen longingly, wondering why my own had to be so utterly bizarre. My vacations inevitably involved rumbling through various far flung territories in an old banger driven by my teacher mother and maiden aunt Minny while my older sister and I sat squashed in the back seat with Della, another maiden aunt, who knitted ferociously between us as she chomped on Fox’s Glacier Mints. Bulging black plastic sacks of provisions were ineptly secured to the roof-rack and an overloaded and precarious trailer – which derailed one year – was dragged behind like an intransigent child. Let’s not discuss the fan belt dying on the Grossglockner, a troubling encounter with a village idiot in Bulgaria or being searched at gunpoint on the German border. And the worst part? Camping!

After some many days on the road we’d arrive in the wilds of Romania or Hungary and pitch our confoundingly complicated igloo tent in a forest or makeshift campsite. It was a feeble companion, always collapsing in a high wind and serving as an unwelcome suntrap in the height of the summer so much so that my sister and I would often stomp off with our lilos and sleep beneath the trees. We’d wash in rivers or lakes, find local fruit and tomatoes and eke out Della’s hot, suppurating supplies of Cracker Barrel cheese with some local bread. By contrast I hear from friends in the UK that ‘glamping’ is all the rage. I call it champing – cheat-camping – and judging by the price tag and amenities offered, it’s a far cry from the experiences of my youth. Real camping, after all, isn’t for sissies.

Of course summer camps for children are hugely popular in Spain but often tents are surplus to requirement and old refugios or dormitory style bunkers are employed. My son experienced many of these – some more basic than others – particularly enjoying one that saw young inmates being pursued through dark woods by fiendish – thankfully fake –ghouls in the dead of night. The ‘Elf & Safety’ gnomes would no doubt have put a stop to such antics in the UK. But rather like those corrupted by glamping, our son stayed at Mill on the Brue, an idyllic camp in Somerset which put paid to all further thoughts of his roughing it at camps back in Majorca.

And exactly what kind of camping is there in Majorca? Not far from my home is Lluc Monastery where there is capacity for a good number of tents. The space has to be pre-booked and since last year a fee has been introduced. Aside from a daily parking charge of €5 per vehicle, individual campers must now pay €3 per day. There are precious few facilities on hand but cold water is available and logs can be purchased. Meanwhile at Club Hipo Campo, pitching holiday tents is welcomed at a reasonable cost.

Of course for all my grumbles, I have at times succumbed to an even more challenging kind of camping when I’ve joined veteran explorer Colonel John Blashford-Snell on global scientific expeditions. You’d think I’d have learnt. Somehow even temperamental igloo tents have seemed luxurious in comparison with fractious tent bedfellows that include cockroaches, snakes, scorpions, mega mosquitoes and tarantulas.

So, happy campers, come to Majorca if you will but don’t expect a ‘glamping’ experience and should disaster strike in the hills, be assured that this camping-averse scribe will not be pitching up with a St Bernard – and reassuring bottle of local hierbas in hand.

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