CARRY ON CAMPING –  A guide to sleeping in nature

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The crisp autumnal weather of November starts to draw seasonal beach dwellers away from the shoreline and towards the leafy surroundings of the countryside. With the stifling heat finally dissipating, Gibraltarians make the welcome transition from beach umbrella to tent, or camper van. Wishing to escape into the lush flora of Andalucía to flee from the stress of work and frontier queues and everyday life for a weekend? Here’s a comprehensive guide to some of our favourite hidden camping spots within the region, with an insight into how to pack, what to look for, what to avoid, and how to survive in the wild, from local Duke of Edinburgh Award leader Michael Adamberry.

Described as an elective outdoor recreational activity, with an emphasis on sleeping outdoors, the practice was popularised in the early 20th century amongst elites. During the Victorian era, the English would camp on the river Thames during pleasure boating outings. Thomas Harim Holding documented his cycling and camping expedition across Ireland towards the back end of the 19th century, affording him the title of the father of modern camping. He founded the first camping group, the Association of cycle campers, which is now more familiarly known as the Camping and Caravanning Club, and boasts just short of 500,000 members. The pastime has extended now to a myriad of festivals around the world, allowing for a fully immersive experience. In an effort to parody the staunchly British tradition of camping, the Carry On film franchise released Carry On Camping in 1969, as the 17th in the series.

Camping has always been the holiday of choice for my family, Packing the car to bursting point, heading off on the ferry to Calais and driving south to Normandy for a week of itchy grass and burning mosquito bites in the height of summer offered the perfect cheap alternative, giving us kids the opportunity to get some much needed outdoor exercise and some quality family bonding time. The Campo de Gibraltar, and extended Andalucía area, offers a diverse variety of camping options, from the Atlantic beachside resorts of Tarifa and Caños de Meca to the mountainous vistas of Jimena, and the lush brush of the Alcornocales National Park.

Having been involved in the Duke of Edinburgh’s International Award for years, Michael is familiar with the joys and tribulations of camping, which makes up a big part of the Award’s work. The Dukes, as the award in Gibraltar is referred to, is an internationally recognised self-development programme for young people aged 14 to 24, encouraging the development of essential life skills through extra-curricular activities. Broken up into three awards; Bronze, Silver and Gold, one of the four sections (with five sections at Gold) covered in the award is the ‘Adventurous Journey’. Depending on the level of the award, participants must complete six to eight hours of purposeful activity (activity which is conducive to the group’s set goal for their journey) whilst journeying over the course of their trips. Bronze Award participants camp for one night, Silver for two and Gold for three. ‘Camping is about appreciating the outdoors, enjoying nature, with an element of self-sufficiency,’ Michael tells me. The campers are given a long and specific list of necessary equipment to take on their journeys, including the essentials such as sleeping bags, talcum powder, first aid kit, a water container, a torch, a whistle, water-proof jacket and trousers to name a few. ‘The leaders do rough it also and sleep in tents frequently, just like the participants. For Gold, we camp in the middle of nowhere (subject to notifying authorities / landowners where required to do so), whereas in Bronze and Silver, we stay at campsites, but do not allow use of the facilities in order to emulate a completely self-sufficient experience for the participants. The journey has to have a purpose; that could be for example appreciating the flora and fauna of a particular area. The journeying itself is carried out for six to eight hours depending on the level. We make sure they have all the equipment necessary if they get lost, and teach them how to navigate at night. One thing I have learned as a leader: make sure you know the area you’re going to, and do your research beforehand, always have a contingency plan. If somebody gets injured or hurt, you never leave them alone. A group should never fall below four people. If there’s a casualty, one person stays with the casualty and two people go for help in case of another injury.’

The ethos of the Duke’s Adventurous Journeying is determination, physical effort, perseverance and co-operation to complete. It is certainly not casual recreational camping. Michael advises me on the difference in necessary equipment for those who are roughing it. ‘Emergency rations are very important to take with you in case you do run out of food. They should be low salt, but high-carb foods that won’t make you thirsty like glucose sweets, energy bars and meal replacement snacks. Always have plenty of water. You will drink two to three litres a day, and if you’re hiking in the heat, you could drink almost up to five litres a day. If you do run into trouble, you should have water purification tablets with you.’ The groups usually carry out their journeys around Spain in locations like Gaucín, Montejaque, Grazalema, Navarredonda de Gredos in Ávila. ‘Avila is a really reliable place, it’s beautiful. For Gold, we rely on Cevennes, France, and we we’ve taken them to Germany once so far; I remember doing my Gold in Luxembourg during a heatwave – it was very tough.’

Offering his best advice to recreational campers who are not looking to practice basic survival, Michael starts with tents, ‘they come in two forms, the two-second pop-up tents and the proper Himalayan style tent that can take absolutely anything.’ He warns of strict Spanish laws on public barbecuing, with most campsites not allowing for personal BBQs. ‘Some will have communal barbecuing areas though,’ he notes. Another popular alternative to tent camping is renting out campsite bungalows; some casually refer to this as glamour camping, or simply “Glamping”. ‘To me, camping means getting away from the internet and just embracing nature.’

Often camping coincides with other outdoor activities, particularly hiking, canoeing, horse riding, archery or fruit picking.  There are various styles of camping outside of backpacking and social camping, including glamping, combining camping with luxury amenities, bicycle camping, combining camping with multi day cycles, winter camping, for those hard-core ski trips and car, off-road and RV camping, with the use and comfort of motorised vehicles. Caravanning is hugely popular amongst Gibraltarians, with many opting to rent plots in campsites around the region and keep their caravans there, to visit. All campsites in Spain offer the basic amenities of showers, toilets and water, with many offering more luxurious amenities like purpose built bungalows or cabins, electricity, laundry services and swimming pools. Choose the best option for you and head into nature, you’re bound to come back rejuvenated.