Camping – a childhood first experience usually. We used to camp in the garden using my father’s old war tent, a tiny A frame, into which we could squeeze his camp bed, a ground sheet and some bedding. Waking to the bird calls, especially the wood pigeons, the cool misty air which the sun shafts through as the dawning day warms up.
There is nothing quite like being outside ‘with nature’, listening to the nocturnal beasties and birds return to their dens, or nests crossing the paths of the early morning risers – the blackbird with its wonderful song, the cock-a-doodle do, birds warming their feathers, the pigs snorting and scuffling in their pen, the deep breathing of the cows their nostrils blowing their smoky breath out into the chilly air.
The Telegraph newspaper reviewed Sussex on Safari - camping in the South Downs and this picture is courtesy of their site.
The breaking out onto the dewy lawn, feeling the damp dewlet dropped grass trickle through our toes, dancing around making dark patterns as we dragged our feet. The dash back in through the tent flaps onto the warming beds with the morning fresh air following us in; the chatter of the young swopping ideas, popping new ones out, full of eager anticipation to the magical start to the day.
Or in the middle of Africa, in a delta – not just any delta, but the Okavango Delta – on a tree ridged island surrounded by ‘swampy’ beds of grasses and papyrus, where the waters are crystal clear over the sands of the Kalahari before they are soaked up into the desert or evaporated away over the annual cycle.
Waking from a cocoon of duvet to remember that the sounds have an eerie echoness of never ending expanses of this desert and watery world, where the lions have been hunting through the night, the howls and cries of assorted beasts, the monkeys scrambling in the trees above preening each other a real familial feel to their rituals.
The malachite kingfisher in the Okavango Delta
A luxury tented camp, with Laura Ashley furnishings, is an incongruous home in those wilds, but it certainly is a way of attracting intrepid explorers, wishing to experience the Okavango and safari bush life, wishing to learn and see another part of the world. Personally observing African nature during the guided walks, or on the mokoro trips through the watery channels, often kept open by the hippos.
That certainly is one of the main differences of do-it-yourself camping, which can still be done in Africa – and I also had that incredible opportunity of being on safari through the Okavango with some friends – where, I hate to say it, I went along for the ride, the planning had been done for me: but did I enjoy it – so much so that I always recommend a visit to anyone planning to visit Southern Africa!
Certainly in Africa you cannot sensibly get up and walk through the dewy grass – encounters with some of the animals would be likely to end in disaster – crocodiles, hippos (if they get angry), any of the large cats, the hunting dogs – but to be able to get up, sit with coffee in hand listening to the early call of the wild, feeling the African day begin is really special.
The northern slopes of the Sussex Downs
Now how about coming on Safari in Sussex? In the lee of the South Downs – I live in Eastbourne where the South Downs disappear under the English Channel, but about ten miles from here (one eighth of the South Downs Way to Winchester) you can camp Safari Sussex style - we could hike along the old Down road and meet up – perhaps at one of our many local pubs?
The camp ground is 'similar', large bell tents mix with A frames for sleeping in (it is camping!) occupy the space, numbers are limited by our group, or ‘share’, a yurt is used for the sitting room (a haven from the rain) near the trees, open to the stars, the camp is in on the outskirts of a wooded copse, tucked up against the northern edge of the Downs.
The description is of overall African, except for our weather, which mean late starts, not dawn forays to see early morning hunts; it is more our English understanding of ‘camping’, still rustic but most definitely enhanced by the camp’s fixtures and fittings. Each group brings its own food and drink – to share a campsite with friends or family is wonderful – a total mix and match: fun for all.
At least in Sussex there are plenty of alternative sites to walk to, right on the camp’s doorstep (or should that be tent post?) – up high on the Downs to Firle Beacon with views across to the English Channel and coastal towns; or to Charleston, the farmhouse of the Bloomsbury Group – a wonderful cottage garden, a house of hidden artistic delights (the national trail runs through Charleston before going on to the high point Firle Beacon); Berwick Church where the walls have been painted by members of the Bloomsbury Group.
There are Exmoor ponies, not zebra; there are bee orchids not waving papyrus; the trees are gnarled, not thorny; badgers roam, there are no lion; foxes slink around, not cerval cats, rabbits for Africa though, which following a kill, will be prepared and slowly cooked for the evening’s meal.
Charleston Farmhouse - country home of the Bloomsbury Group
Sleeping under the canopy of English woodland trees, nestled into the side of the downs, the natural hedging trees and shrubs providing nesting sites for all kinds of insects, birds, small mammals .. more do it yourself, but comfortable and well thought out and at least in England you are unlikely to go to the loo and find a snake winding its way through the bamboo sides! – a surprise to me too .. as I scampered away.
Hello Mr Postman – have you ever been to Africa and had a safari? Or have you tried this new English Safari under our starry plough in the sky? We have been very lucky with our travels .. my mother has had a sleepy week, but comes too for a little while when I visit, which is nice and we manage to have a laugh .. she’ll laugh at the snake story!
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