Crazy about Camping


I got married in a 5 star resort in the Caribbean. I’ve never hugged a tree in my life. And the thought of being nearly ten miles from the nearest flushed toilet left me with chills. So when my husband’s best friend became a Scout Leader and started pushing the joys of camping on us I was nervous. I had visions of mud-filled sleeping bags, mud in the chill box and mud on our clothes. I felt quite stressed at the thought of taking the kids out of their routine. What would they eat? How would they amuse themselves?

I needn’t have worried. Without the Xbox our kids seemed to step back in time. They made and raced paper boats. They made a dam in a small stream, most impressively they taught our dog to swim. They would cycle around the small campsite, go to the playground, take the dog for a walk, or meet up with their new found friends. They had the absolute freedom that they never have at home.

To step into the world of camping doesnít need to cost a fortune, we borrowed what supplies we could from friends and family and only bought a basic 4-man tent the first time we went. We progressed the following summer by splashing out on airbeds, a cool box, a kettle and a single ring gas cooker. Lots of campsites have an onsite kitchen so you donít need to go mad buying kitchen stuff initially.

What we bought we picked up in sales at the end of the season in Tesco, Argos and Lidl – so nothing cost too much and we felt happy we had a bargain. We used the camping Ireland website (below) as our bible as it gave unbiased advice on where was best for adults or kids and what facilities each site had, so we were able to find campsites close to Dublin which would cater for our kids age group.

Overwhelmingly the best one we found was River Valley in Red Cross in Wicklow. The campsite is clean and has a fully equipped camperís kitchen, a playground and a small farm, plus they have a dog walking track which takes a good 40 minutes to complete. There is a shop across the road for any food or camping essentials you may have forgotten.

For the first few trips we indulged in the local chipper which is just outside the gates of the campsite and believe me nothing tastes as good as a chip butty in the fresh air. Mickey Finns is the pub/restaurant just at the entrance to the campsite and has kids clubs, kids movies and the most amazing family banquets (2 adults & 2 children) for 25euros.

When we first went camping we would eat out more often, but as we became more used to the experience we knew what to bring ourselves. We chose a favourite cereal which can be eaten cold for the kids, but for us the heart of the weekend was the fry-ups.

For lunch we stuck to bread rolls, meat and some salad, for dinner we cooked spaghetti bolognaise at home and kept it chilled in our cool box which we could easily re-heat. We found pasta and sauce was easy to prepare as was any type of barbecue food and salad. That may seem trivial to some, but kids being well fed with their favourite food is the perfect start to a good family holiday.

The other thing we worried about as a family was getting the kids to sleep at night. My advice is to bring bikes, hurling sticks or swing ball – whatever activity they are into at home. They will be up early (did I mention the rooster?) and on the go all day, and they will stay up until dark, so they will collapse on the airbeds at the end of the day and be sound asleep in seconds.

I brought lots of books and activity pads as I learned over the years that they may need some relaxing time, and at home that may mean TV, so lying on top of a sleeping bag reading helps to re-charge their batteries.

Before the recession my kids had been to Italy and France on their holidays, they didnít know where Ennis or Connemara was, and now they know Ireland as well as I did growing up. When I asked them what was their best holiday, they immediately said ‘Redcross, when Dad rolled out of the airbed in the middle of the night’.

So, start slowly and donít go mad buying equipment, go for one night only and bring sandals, wellies, T-shirts and fleeces. Learn to enjoy just playing with your kids and spending time with your family and friends. It truly is a joy to go camping.

By Joan Mitchell