Alfriston Camping Field – Pleasant Rise Farm. A field, toilets, showers, washing up sinks and water from a tap at the end of the hedge. A tent, airbeds, duvets, blankets, food without a fridge, a gas cooker, plastic plates, a kettle, table, chairs, games and books.
Sure – the airbeds started sinking a few hours after they’d been inflated; sure – the tail of a hurricane whipped us as it flew past; sure- rain and mizzle (misty drizzle) found us and toyed with us; sure- there’s nothing perfect about camping – and not looking for perfection is a reminder that we don’t need to look for perfection. Life is what it is.
There was an old, abandoned tennis court we tried to play on – grit from the deconstructing ground surface made us skid and slide as we hurtled the little green balls around the semi-fenceless, unloved space. Except we did love it – while we played. There’s something about camping that strips away your preconceptions about how things aught to be. A space for playing in – no matter how unkempt – becomes just that. Somewhere to play.
A space to wash yourself or your dishes becomes a haven- thank goodness we have access to water-from-a-tap. We remember how lucky we are and we feel lucky.
I love how everything has a solution when we’re camping: life simplifies around us.
The children make friends instantly – die hard BFFs – and disappear into the woods. Their laughter rings round the whole field. They find a rope to swing on so they swing on it; though their hands hurt when they hold the stick; though they fall off endless times; though their legs are bruised and scratched; they play on and on. They play with mud and discarded things, they laugh and explore.
I tend house and revel in the simple chores: boil the kettle, make the beds, prepare the food, tidy our space. I sit and look at the sky, the field, the hills, the trees. I hear the kettle bubbling, birds singing, children playing and people talking. I get out my books or magazines or my crosswords or notepaper and read or puzzle or write and sigh – deeply contented.
We climb a hill, over wild flowers and long grass to the summit where the view rolls around us, green and lush. Horses and cattle graze, bees buzz by and we pluck blackberries – ripe and juicy – from the bushes.
Some days, the wind and rain drive us in so we play card games cross-legged on the floor. We loaded a couple of devices with movies before we came and David Bowie croons to us about magic and tears as the Goblin King toys with the stolen babe while Sarah fights her way through dangers untold to the Goblin City.
We pop out to the zoo (see Drusillas) and a beautiful medieval house and garden (see the Clergy House). We visit a fourteenth century pub and the village church, we find the village store and walk along the timber framed street, surrounded by ancient beauty. We stop to admire a dragon figurehead reclaimed from a ship wrecked at the Battle of Beach Head in 1690.
We cross the river Cuckmere and down to a tributary where a pair of swans nestle and a heron flies over our heads. I lower the children from a bridge into the shallow waters of the rivulet and watch them splash and explore, “can we stay here all day?” They ask. Can we stay here forever? I think.
Pack up day comes and my cousin comes to help us end our retreat. We stuff and roll and squeeze our camp-life into bags and load the car for the journey home.
A sadness pervades as we drive away, we’re leaving paradise and we know it. We’ll come back next year we promise each other. We drive through the field, saying goodbye to the rope swing and the haunted tennis court, we say goodbye to the idyllic village as we drive through and out into the farmland beyond.
We are renewed and rejuvenated and pleased to be home where the fridge is cold and the mattresses stay plump. But we are already yearning for a field and a tent and a wide blue sky.
I’m not so sure we can wait till next year…