Monday, January 26, 2015

A Canadian's Guide to Camping in the UK

So, fellow campers and campers-to-be, I've found myself living in the UK, away from my home of 35 years that provided endless rustic camping opportunities. Seeing as camping is something that defines who I am, it didn't take long before I was compelled to venture off into Britain's out-of-doors, to feed my wind-whistling-through-the-pines addiction. Well, it's my duty to inform North Americans who haven't tried camping in the UK yet that you're going to have to adjust your expectations. 

Camping in Peaks District National Park
You see, calling something a National Park on this side of the Atlantic does not necessarily mean the UK government has attempted to preserve or restore the natural character of the landscape. No sir, it does not mean that at all. Here, there are sheep. Yes, from what I can tell, National Park means maintaining feeding opportunities for future generations of farm animals: the government has reserved a tract of land where livestock can graze for all eternity. It doesn't seem to prevent quarrying, since one is clearly visible from the top of Stanage Edge in Peak District National Park (see Kiera Knightly gaze longingly at it here in a recent incarnation of "Pride and Prejudice"). There are also villages and hamlets dotting the National Parks, as well as plenty of roads and train tracks. I don't doubt that restrictions do exist, but they surely not in the Canadian tradition (which is itself far from pure).

Of course, I realise that it's probably impossible to create grand wilderness areas in a small island hosting 60+ million people.  No, a kingdom that has been thoroughly developed for many centuries can't possibly provide you with an experience that is akin to that which you'd find in the sparsely-settled great white north (population density of 250/km2 vs. Canada's 4/km2).  In fact, it was British expat John Muir who realized over 130 years ago that national governments should be setting aside areas of natural magnificence in North America to be enjoyed in perpetuity. But regardless, the National Parks in the UK have been set aside to "...make sure that nature and wildlife are protected and that people can continue to benefit from nature without destroying it" (says the UK Government), so the intent isn't all that different, even though the circumstances surely are.

So if you've read this blog before, you'll know that I'm quite particular in the things that I look for in a car camping site (which I generally perceive to be awful). Canadian guidelines cannot be applied here. Camping in the UK = tent in a field. At best. I suspect that most of the time, you're sharing that field with livestock, if not dozens of other tents. Privacy outside of your tent is not an option. If I were to apply my North American standards of camping to my UK reviews (spacious, private, pristine, secluded), the needle would be unable to move past a failing grade. But I can appreciate that camping cultures are context-specific, so I'll try to focus on the criteria that are within a local campground operator's control and try to put aside those that aren't.

Lake District National Park -
Complete with Hedgerows and Stone Walking Paths

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