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Buying a tunnel tent tips and hints

Going to a tent display, should you find one near you, is an ideal way of getting a feel for the kind of tent you'd like. I often advise a tunnel tent as they are one of the easiest designs and can come in family friendly sizes. Here's a few things to look out for:

  • A tunnel tent usually has three or five flexible poles. The ones with five poles aren't much more difficult to erect that the ones with three poles. 

  • A tunnel tent often has different lengths of poles. The pole will have a colour (usually in the centre of the pole so you won't see it through the pole sleeve) which corresponds to a colour sewn on to the end of the pole sleeve.

  • A tunnel tent which has all the same length of poles won't need colour coding and eliminates a certain amount of faff. The Vango Icarus is an obvious example.

  • Tents often have separate bedroom pods that are designed to be unhooked before striking camp. This is not necessary, bedroom pods can be left in situ when folding the tent up.

  • Many tents are factory vacuum packed. This means that when you go to fold up a tent it is nigh on impossible to get it back into it's supplied bag. Look for an 'oversized bag' as a selling point. 

  • A steel poled tunnel tent will be sturdier in a gale, but has a heavier and bulkier pack size. You can compensate by carrying poles and tent separately, but then you risk leaving the poles at home accidentally (and you won't be popular for that!)

  • A polycotton fabric tent won't heat up as quickly in the mornings should it be sunny, so you'll get an extra bit of sleeping in time. Again it's heavier and bulkier pack size (and expense) , but you decide if it's worth it. 


End of summer camping

End of summer camping at Hillfoot, fast becoming my favourite site. It's only 10 miles from Coleraine and in stunning countryside, a towering mountain just behind us and a very relaxed atmostphere on the site. I have a few pics of our latest camp there, when we met up with some of the Northern Ireland Campsite Forum people and had an absolute ball. We also made some new members of the other campers, and enjoyed a lovely evening having a beer with them all in the awning of two of the forum members, Lynda and 'Swiper'. Thanks for the hospitality guys!

We used the Vango Icarus (2010 model) with the Vango Premium Extension. We brought a school friend of my sons, who had never been camping before. He didn't really know what to make of the pink tent that I gave them to sleep in, as a pup tent. The tent was a cheapie purchase one autumn, and has never been used before apart from being put up in the garden in order to check it had all it's bits. Its a Gelert Rocky 3 in Raspberry and was really bought for me as a lightweight tent to bring on a bus, plane or other form of public transport. I'm toying with the idea of taking it to France sometime, flying in and heading to the nearest Decathlon for a sleeping bag and a stove, and travelling around on a train. I missed my Gap Year, can't you tell! 

Mervyn, the campsite owner, has quite a few benches and tables built by his good self and laid out around the site. It's just a matter of getting what you need, and as there were plenty of us I used two benches, my fold up table, and a collection of chairs some mine and some belonging to others in our group. 

The weekend Homestead

My son, right, and his schoolfriend who had never camped before

This two little girls had polka dot matching dresses, and were adorable.

Baby Mia with her new rain suit

view from the top of Benbradagh


The Sunflower Festival 2012

I'm off next weekend, small festival and there's only two of us, so the list is One tepee tent, two SI mats, two sleeping bags, and basic tea making/reheating facilities. It's paper plates all the way, the coolbox will by my seat (my teenager can sit on the ground, he's young) and a couple of torches our only lighting. We'll see how that goes - things have a habit of finding their way into the car even when I intend to take it easy. Report to follow.....

Well, I'm back in one piece, just about! It was a bit of a disaster. The car park field was water-logged and muddy due to a week of rain. It was not possible to get any more cars through the churned up entrance and so we were all redirected to Lisnagarvey Hockey Club to park our cars. This would have been fair enough, if only the promised 'Shuttle Bus' had materialised. It didn't. I paid for a taxi instead, and left my car in a car park four miles from the venue just off a main road with no cameras or security. The taxi was a bit dear.

We had two large rucksacks, a trolly with the coolbox on board and a few bulky but light items strapped to the top of the coolbox. It was difficult and heavy to lug around, but what choice did we have. The taxi could only take us so far, then we had to carry all our stuff to the top of a hill, up through a field that had been driven over and churned through with cars and tractors. Of course by the time we got up there a tractor went down to the bottom of the hill to pick some people up, too late for us then! I was angry as hell by this stage, and by the time we got to the ticket tent I was ready to bite the head off the next person who presented me with any other challenge other than to just get through. It was so frustrating and I was close to tears.

We got in and got pitched in the one area of the campsite that wasn't churned up in mud, which was behind a row of portaloos. Not a pretty view but hey ho, rather that than a mud bath. A while later heard the main car park was open again, so I got another (overpriced) taxi to retrieve my car. But by the time I got the car to the main gate it was closed again, whereupon I was re-directed to another car park a mile or so down the road. But when I got there that car park just had closed too! There was no other option but to go back to the Hockey Club and this time I could not get a taxi. Luckily the manager of 'The Bonnevilles' was going our way and so this time we got a lift through the artists entrance, which luckily was right beside our 'family' campsite. I later caught up with the same guy and bought him a pint.

So as if things weren't bad enough, nothing could have prepared me for the 'electric disco shed' which was right beside the family camping area, and therefore, my tent. The disco was a tented area with open sides and from it poured out extremely loud dance music, dubstep and at one point I was informed, 8 bit. It should be pointed out that neither I or anyone else around me was given one of the leaflets, which meant that I did not see the festival map. Had I seen it, and seen the 'disco tent' bit, I would have gone as far away from it as was possible.

Who thought that putting a really really noisy thing like this beside the FAMILY camping area was nuts. A family who'd camped in two small tents close to me had two crying children, probably in and around 5 years old. The parents struggled getting two tents and gear packed up again, consoling these two upset children and off they went to the far side of the field (which was pretty much liquid brown stuff by that stage).

The year before that whole field was planted in long grass or barley, or something (not being a farmer I wouldn't know) but this time the field was in grass and it would have been much cleaner if it had of been planted as it had the year before.

So - yes I could have moved my tent, if I had any energy after the ordeal of just getting there. If i'd been able to park my car in the main car park, if the porters which transport your gear for a charitable donation had of been there and available (no sign of these guys whatsoever), if the ground in all the other parts of the field weren't mud.

We put in earplugs and persevered, and when it got too much I went to the campfire stage, went slightly up the hill to a quieter area and put down a picnic blanket. I was in a foul mood most of the weekend. It didn't help when an organiser cheerily said 'well at least you didn't have to pay for the car park'. Well, I would have happily paid the £3 for the car park, rather than the £30 or so quid I gave to the taxi drivers. It was such an insensitive thing to say I felt like pushing her down through a few layers of mud.

All the negativities out of the way (there's a few more actually - I spent full bar prices and was down £42 in beer tokens before I found out about the offie which was hidden away behind a retail tent) what can I say, the music was great. The bands were fantastic, and the cinema in the trees was hilarious, glad as I am that they screened the 'university challenge' episode of 'The Young Ones'. 

Will I go next year? I'm really not sure.

I've just remembered one really positive thing, the weather was great all weekend. 

 Using the Tepee tent this time, A Vango Juno 500

It was just myself and one of my sons who went this time, here he is!

The extremely badly sited 'Electric Disco Shed' - my tent was less than 6m away from this

The main retail section

The Campfire Stage

A Plastic Rose, on the Main Stage

Million Dollar Reload at the Barn Stage

Pocket Billiards filling the main stage area

The 'singles' camping area in the background, the campfire Stage in front


Camping at Castleward

Some of the members of the Northern Ireland Campsites Forum and I arranged to go camping this weekend past to Castleward. I just thought I'd post up some of the photos.

In the last few weeks there has been terrible weather, flash flooding, thunderstorms and even hail, so I wasn't at all sure if this was going to be the kind of weather I'd even want to go camping in. But as is often the case, the sun came out for most of the weekend and there were even bits of blue sky. It was lovely to meet John, CJ and her husband Steven and I think we all really enjoyed the company and the craic.

I brought my big canvas tent, thinking that if the weather was bad at least we had plenty of shelter. In the end I slightly regret not taking the Vango tunnel tent, it would have been much easier put up and taken down. I also brought far too much stuff, and was slightly envious that John had a) such a tidy tent and b) was fairly quickly packed up and away while I was still trying to get my head around rock peg extraction with the back of a hammer. I still don't think there was any 'stuff' I didn't use, but I can't say I got it totally right this weekend. It is still, no matter how often I go camping, a learning curve each and every time.

I still think that the weekend was a success, I made new friends who I hope to go camping with again very soon.

CJ's hubby in the background putting up the satellite dish

love my new Hago Kitchen stand

chilling out reading the paper

Toby and Coco

Johns pad for the weekend


How long does it take to set up a tent

I got to thinking about this question after reading and responding to a forum post on a camping forum, where I answered thus:

It depends what tent I take, but generally about 15 - 20 minutes to put the tent up and get a table out, stove on and coffee made. I tend to leave things in the car until I need them.

My trick is I don't really bother setting up the beds. I might throw the SIM's into the bedroom pod with the valve open to let them inflate and leave them there. The sleeping bags, pillows etc might get chucked in after the SIM's or they might not be taken out of the car until each of us wants or needs them.

When I go for a longer holiday I take a big frame tent. I do it in stages, get the tent up and set up the kitchen. There are curtains for that tent but I enjoy the process of setting them up and making the tent look homely with strings of lights and rugs. I would only do that for a fortnights holiday, when I'm really looking for a home from home and not just somewhere to lay my head down for a quick weekend getaway.

So in that case it takes all day! Not that I'm breaking into a sweat or anything...

What really interested me was that some of the other people who responded absolutely hated the process of setting up, while others enjoyed it. It also depends on the weather of course, even those who say they love setting up will probably be tested to their limits in a downpour.

Link to original post

So, here is a breakdown of what I do when I go camping

arrive on site
book in to reception
put most of the tent up
assemble table, EHU plugged in and kettle on
complete all pegging out of tent guy ropes
get folding chair out
throw self inflating mat into the bedroom pod, valve undone
make coffee and sit taking care not to spill it all over me


NICF Ballyronan Meet

What a weekend, I'm knackered! We had the best time and the most fantastic weather and I'd love to do it all again as soon as possible.

There were seven families altogether, and a few day visitors. It was amazing to meet all the people I've been talking to online for ages. There aren't any photos as there were people present who don't want photos appearing online, as well as young people and children there and it wouldn't be appropriate. I don't think I need any to convey how much I enjoyed the campfire, the evening beers, the barbecue, the craic and the table quiz (even though the girls lost by 2 points). It was really nice to see my little cousin and meet his new fiance too.

The weather was incredibly hot, regarding the actual camping it was too hot. It meant an early morning to escape the sauna and there was no way we could use the tent during the day. Shade was is short supply, and the poor dogs were moved around the shade of the amenity block as the sun moved in the sky. We got some walking in too, and Toby had his first paddle in the water. Ballyronan campsite is a marina and is on Lough Neagh, and I think the little dog was more surprised than I when he leapt off a rock and found himself up to his neck in lake water.

One way to cool off though!


Camping in a pod -!

Well, it was sort of unintentional. I turned up for some solo camping to a place called Drumhoney Caravan Park and being so early in the season by the time I got there in the early evening it was practically dark. The family who run the site must have taken pity on me and offered me the use of one of their brand new camping pods, only launched that day! It was very good of them to offer me the pod for the same price as the pitch which I'd already paid, and so I couldn't really say no. I did have a twinge of regret at not being able to pitch my tent which was something I'd really been looking forward to doing. But I knew in the wee small hours of the morning I could well be glad of the slightly warmer temperatures the pod had to offer.

By the time I got the kettle on it was more than twilight, it was pitch dark. The harsh electric strip light in the camping pod was an annoyance so I dug out the fairy lights I'd intended to use on the tent and was pleased to see the ambient light made the pod look very pretty. I've never seen a pod before, but I have read about them and seen pictures of them online, and so I did have an idea what to expect. I believe some pods have sleeping platforms inside them but this one didn't, so it was a matter of setting up my bed on the floor. There was a nice little deck outside for putting my stove on, and the enclosure in which the pod was in included a long built in seat and a picnic table. 

I did feel a bit disconcerted at sleeping on the floor of what is essentially a glorified shed, I felt quite isolated in there which is something I don't feel in a tent even if I'm camping alone like I was on this occasion. On the up side though, I could have the ipod docked in it's speaker and listen to some podcasts and even an audio book quite loudly, without disturbing anyone at all. 

This was my puppy Tobys first camping trip, and I elected not to use the crate as we were 'indoors'. Well, that was a mistake, I spent all night defending the little space at the back of my sleeping bag from a little wriggly body and after evicting him the first time, he proceeded to sit an inch from my face most of the night. So every time I opened my eyes he scared the wits out of me! I can honestly say I didn't sleep well, it was very cold even in the pod and I was glad at that point I wasn't in the tent instead.

I was up very early on the following morning, following a very strange sound outside that I just couldn't account for. It turned out that there was a fully grown stag in the field adjacent to the site who was amusing himself by rolling a plastic barrel with his antlers up and down the hill. A bit more investigation and I discovered that there's a whole animal farm in the valley beside, and belonging to, the campsite. There were goats, wallabies, minature horses, rare breed chickens that looked like Rod Hull, and some very strange short eared Rabbits! 

Games Room

Looking down from the site to the animal enclosures

who are you?

I'll just have a scratch of my - um - belly

Billy goat gruff

Coco and Toby would love to chase those animals

The campsite was very nice, clean and well tended. There are a lot of statics but some spaces for tourers and tents as well. I would go again, especially to bring my two boys to see the animals. I liked the pods but having done that once I would prefer to use my own tent. One of the things I learnt was that when I was packing up it still took me an hour or so to put everything away in the car. Thinking about it I realised that it's the emptying of a tent that takes all the time, not the putting the actual tent away. Once a tent is emptied it can be taken down in minutes. It's getting all the stuff out of it that takes time!


Memories of past seasons and saying goodbye to a faithful tent

Feeling a bit nostalgic about past camping trips I thought I'd look up some old camping photos, so here goes:

Following pictures feature a Royal Tarn 4, my two kids and one loopy dog (see if you can spot the dog)

An oldie, taken in France 2006. I took that particular tent to a car boot sale yesterday, and asked for £20 for it. I ended up bringing it home again :(

Same tent, taken in Benone in 2010, can't believe how much these two boys have grown since then! Both of them have overtaken my height, and it's no wonder we started to feel cramped in this tent when the only place my eldest son can stand is right in the centre.

Most recently this tent was used at the Sunflower Festival, August 2011. Not a bad pitch considering I did it single handed, in complete darkness, by feel. And that included trampling down the wheat (which was the designated camping area for the festival, I don't make a habit of trampling down farmers crops).

That trip convinced me we'd finally outgrown the tent. I thought I'd hold on to it for a 'borrowing' tent but as no one has borrowed it for one year I think it's time to get rid of it. It'll be brought to the next car boot sale, where I may or may not get a tenner for it.

The boys have outgrown our old tent, time to say goodbye to an old friend.


List of items needed for camping (modifiable)

One of the most frequently asked questions on camping forums and in real life, from other people, is WHAT DO I NEED WHEN I GO CAMPING!

So here's a starter list, which can be modified to suit you as you become more experienced.

  • Tent
  • Groundsheet/footprint
  • Pegs
  • Rubber Mallet, more than one
  • Claw Hammer can be used for stubborn pegs and also for taking them back out again.
  • Sleeping bags (3-4 season) per person
  • Airbed and PUMP (capital letters because this is so often overlooked!)
  • Foam mats or equivalent for under an airbed
  • extra blankets
  • pillows from home
  • hot water bottles

2 folding crates or clear plastic boxes (If you buy a lidded plastic box they used as a low table.)

Crate 1: (think of it as kitchen box)

  • plates, mugs, cutlery
  • tin opener/corkscrew
  • dishwashing kit (ziploc bag with sponge, scourer and sm. bottle of dishwashing liquid)
  • nesting pan set (or a lidded pan and a small frying pan from home)
  • tongs, sharp knife, peeler, chopping board
  • tea/coffee/sugar in airtight food containers
  • dry food, such as crisps and biscuits and cereal packets
  • wooden skewers
  • tin foil
  • hand sanitiser

Crate 2:

  • torch/head torch
  • battery operated lights (such as a string of fairy lights or even solar lights)
  • first aid kit
  • baby wipes
  • spare loo roll
  • matches or lighter
  • books/pack cards
  • roll of bin liners
  • collapsible water carrier
  • ear plugs
  • picnic blanket

Clothes bag:

  • soft holdall bag, one for each person (even little people) containing clothes, toiletries and undies.
  • toiletries to include sun cream and meds
  • travel towel, preferably bath towel sized


  • Stove (lots of options from single burner to camping oven!)
  • Folding barbecue
  • Cool box (tip freeze milk, sausages, pre-made dinners etc beforehand)


  • 2 handled Trug, £3 Asda, perfect for washing dishes in. (Alternative: washing up bowl from home)
  • Kettle (or you could use a lidded saucepan)
  • Chairs (or you could sit on a picnic blanket
  • Table (for eating at and playing games etc)
  • Folding kitchen stand, not essential (for example you could use one end of your folding table) but it is safer with young children to have everything confined to one place. Avoid the concertina type kitchen stands, they are unstable and prone to collapse.

If you're taking EHU (Electric Hook Up) you can have:

  • fan heater or electric oil filled radiator
  • electric kettle
  • table lamp from home
  • chargers for devices such as cameras and phones

Having EHU extends the camping season earlier and later in the year.

For a more simplified version of this list check out The Never No More Packing List


New Puppy/camping buddy

Meet my new camping buddy! This is Toby, he's a rough haired Jack Russel and he's super cute. I now have two dogs and one cat, and luckily they all get along with each other swimmingly. Toby is very easy to look after, until night time when he cried for two weeks solid! I was trying my best to crate train him but the crate is consigned to the shed and Toby is in the same pet bed as my other dog Coco now. No whining, crying or going mental, sleeping all night, bliss! Just wish he'd stop piddling on the floor now!

So any tips or ideas you have about how to get a little 12 week old puppy to poo outside instead of inside would be gratefully received. 

The mop is permanently in a bucket of bleach outside the back door, and although we're using puppy pads he seems to think they are an optional extra. Also, he leaks slightly every time he's picked up! 

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