I’ve just done my last camp of the year. Over the summer, I’ve made a temporary home of seven campsites in south west England and Wales, sometimes accompanied and sometimes alone, at times in a campervan, but mostly in a tent.
It’s the first time I’ve attempted this much outdoors living in my native land. I’ve no stats to back this up, but my impression is that camping in Britain is more popular than ever – even though I avoided the trendier campsites, many were full, or nearly so. They were populated by families with children, older couples and single people, including one carrying all his equipment on his bike.
The owner of the campsite where I stayed last, Orchard Farm in Lower Wraxall, said this year they were confident of enough customers to stay open in November. People come from Bath, some ten miles away, just to get away from the city for a night, he said.
My hunch is that British campers have found a natural antidote – pardon the pun – to Nature Deficit Disorder, a term coined by Richard Louv in his influential book Last Child in the Woods. Louv argues that the ‘wired generation’ of American children have lost their bond with nature, a relationship with the outside that is as vital to healthy development as sleep and nourishment. Since its publication in 2005, the book has spawned debate and research internationally, including in Australia, the world’s most urbanised nation.
Of course, Nature Deficit Disorder applies to adults too, especially as most of us are having to spend more and more time interacting with screens for our work. Living in central London in the early noughties, I was afflicted by an undiagnosed form that led to compulsive behaviour. On Sunday afternoons I would often find myself putting on shoes and coat and embarking on a long, unplanned walk to the nearest large park. Only once I was surrounded by green did my feet stop moving and I would realise, with some surprise, that I was several miles from home, my books and computer abandoned.
Moving to Crystal Palace provided an instant cure. While still a London suburb, it’s positively pastoral compared to inner London, its streets filled with tall trees, the contours of the wooded landscape on which it was built only a century or so ago still visible in its many parks. From my bedroom window I can see trees and hills; right outside is the garden I only partially reclaimed from wildness.
But here’s the thing: now I think I have Nature Addiction Syndrome. The more time I spend outside, the more I want to be outside. My last camp brought me a golden apple of a morning, picking teasels in the corner of a field while listening to The Archers on the car radio. The tent and stove are still in the boot; I could squeeze in another camp before winter …