Tales from the campsite 2

Summer Showers at Elder Fell Farm is set on a Lake District campsite. I thought I’d share with you some of my own camping adventures – and misadventures!

Campfire’s burning

Campfires are becoming a thing of the past. In the old days of heavy canvas tents I guess the fire risk was less, and the health and safety regulations fewer. One of my happiest memories of childhood camping trips with the Girl Guides was getting together around a campfire to sing songs and tell stories. The stories were always ghost stories (inevitably the one about the babysitter getting sinister phone calls, only to find that the caller was ringing from INSIDE THE HOUSE.) There were inevitably marshmallows on sticks to toast too, and hot chocolate.

Campfire. Image by Pexels from Pixabay

We were more inclined to sing together in those days, I think. It didn’t matter if you couldn’t hold a tune, you could still join in with such classics as An Austrian went yodelling, That Highland goat and Oh, you’ll never get to Heaven. There was no social media and no pressure to ‘perform’ – it wasn’t about taking turns to sing your song, we all sang every song together. The singing and the storytelling was immediate and intimate. It was ours. A ring of faces around the fire lit by the flames, and darkness all around. The rest of the world didn’t exist and didn’t matter.

Image by zanna-76 from Pixabay

In lockdown, we had a few fires in the garden, to get rid of some wood and I found myself sitting out there by myself on a few occasions as the fire burnt down, completely on my own, and found myself remembering those old campfire sing-songs. I realised that was something I would probably never do again; sit round a fire with other people and sing, just for the fun of it.

So, when I came to write Summer Showers at Elder Fell Farm I knew there had to be a campfire in there somewhere to make up for that! Following modern campsite practice they have their fire in a (safe) rented fire pit supplied by the farmer, and there is no way that the two lads in the story would tolerate the idea of singing songs around a fire (unless they had rude words about bums or poo, of course!). But the campfire provides the same sense of community and privacy as those long-ago ones of my childhood. The small circle of faces lit by the firelight and the darkness of the world outside gives the characters an opportunity to talk about life and death in a new way, without interference from outside. It was one of my favourite scenes in the novel to write.

And if anyone knows of an active campfire singing scene, where musical ability doesn’t matter, but having a marshmallow on a stick to toast is a bonus, please let me know! (I’m a bit old for the Guides or the Scouts these days, mind you …)

An illustration from my campfire song book

Here is a verse from one of those old Girl Guide campfire songs. I know now that the tune is Lili Marlene if you want to sing along:

With the scent of woodsmoke drifting in the air,
And the glow of firelight we always love to share,
Visions of campfire still return,
And as the logs flame up and burn,
We dream of bygone campfires and long for those to come.

Tales from the campsite

Summer Showers at Elder Fell Farm is set on a Lake District campsite. I thought I’d share with you some of my own camping adventures – and misadventures!

Guide Camp

My first experience of camping (other than sleeping in a tent in the back garden) came when I was in the Girl Guides, nearly forty years ago. Every summer my guide company went camping, and we were lucky that being so close to the North Yorkshire Moors we had easy access to a beautiful national park.

Camp at Goathland, mid 1980s.

Camping with the guides was basic – really basic. Tents were heavy green canvas ones, with enormous wooden pegs, that took real effort and skill to pitch. Toilets were chemical buckets in smelly green toilet tents. Washing facilities consisted of a washing up bowl perched on a stand which we had to make ourselves out of branches. If you were good at knots, you had a neat little washroom in your wash tent. If you weren’t you had a washing up bowl on the floor. I don’t think we washed that much anyway!

Then there was the pit. All the waste went into a deep pit, which if we were lucky the farmer (in whose field we were camping) would have dug for us. If we were unlucky, the leaders ended up digging it. Worst job on the campsite was emptying the toilet buckets into the pit. We did have to work quite hard as well as having fun – we had rotas for cooking, cleaning and looking after the fires but I don’t remember anyone refusing to do their bit.

Hard at work

We cooked over a fire, which sounds idyllic but usually resulted in food which was burnt on the outside and raw on the inside. My particular favourite camping food was hedgehogs (not real hedgehogs, of course!) which consisted of meat balls with rice in them cooked in tomato soup. The rice was always crunchy, the meat was occasionally raw, and because us guides weren’t that good at chopping onion, there were usually huge chunks of it floating in the sauce.


We had treasure hunts and hikes, orienteering, bridge or raft building, and crafts in the tent if it rained. The thing I enjoyed most about guide camps was the campfires. Most nights we would sit around the fire (on ‘campfire mats’ which consisted of woven newspaper, decorated and put in a clear plastic bag to keep them waterproof) and we would sing together. On the last night of camp we would always sing ‘I want to linger’ which brought tears to my eyes because it meant that camp was over for another year.

Mm, I want to linger,
Mm, a little longer,
Mm, a little longer with you.

Mm, it's such a perfect night,
Mm, it doesn't seem quite right,
Mm, that it should be my last with you.

Mm, and come September,
Mm, I will remember,
Our camping days and friendships true.

Mm, and as the years go by,
Mm, I'll think of you and sigh,
Mm, this is goodnight and not goodbye.
‘Guide camp’ by young Liz!