Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Book Review: The Art of Camping.

The Art of Camping – The history and practice of sleeping under the stars

Author: Matthew De Abaitua
Published by Hamish Hamilton July 2011 

The Art of Camping captures the reader with a thoroughly researched, detailed and fascinating account of the origins of camping and its development as a recreational pastime.  Interspersed with the author’s anecdotes of his formative years as a camper, The Art of Camping evokes the spirit of the campfire and then douses the flames in the reality of modern day life.  An early description of a gallant logistical endeavour across London on public transport, fully laden with camping gear and small child, reflects not only the author's enthusiasm for his subject, but the lengths some people will go to, to enjoy a few nights under canvas.

De Abaitua’s childhood memories of a 2000 mile camping trip through France, squashed in the back of a beige Ford Cortina, and his more recent descriptions of ‘Dad-silence’ at the wheel of his own kit laden car, contrast sharply with the more wholesome, cooperative and disciplinarian outlook of those early pioneers of camping.  The author highlights a significant schism in the camping movement dating back to the end of the First World War.  Little more than a decade after Baden-Powell took a group of young boys for the first Scout camp in August 1907, another scout leader John Hargrave, left the patriotic, pseudo-militaristic Scout movement and went on to form a camping movement with a greater focus on nature, a progressive ethos and an inherent desire for social change.  The Art of Camping chooses (thankfully) to follow the latter trail, a path which veers toward the left of the political spectrum.

In the closing chapters, De Abaitua revisits the notion of real camping and the perfect tent.  For many campers today it may well be ‘the mystic charge of being outdoors’ that denotes ‘real camping’, but his closing observations on the detritus of a post festival field in Glastonbury and the new ‘disposable attitude’ many campers have to abandoning their equipment following a sojourn to the wilderness, illustrates how far removed some modern campers are from the ethos of the early pioneers.  It is not without irony that a pastime born from a desire for social change and equity has now developed into a multi-million pound industry and demands from some campsite owners for ‘bank holiday premiums’. 

This is a truly splendid book which not only marks out its author as an expert in his field, it leads the reader to conclude that Matthew De Abaitua is more than likely an expert in a field aswell. 

Josh Sutton
June 2011.

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