Blog| Cub camp: A beginner’s guide

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Just how hard can camping with a bunch of 8-10 ½ year-olds be? Cub Scout parents and camping novices, Clare O’Neill and Helen Swaffield found out...

Can’t someone else do it?

We don’t do camping. Sleeping under canvas and family camping holidays are a concept we’ve never understood.

Back in January, when leaders at 11th Purley Cub Pack first appealed for parents to come and help at the 2014 Summer Camp at Broadstone Warren, neither of us could see how we could possibly be of any use, and we both quietly stood back, hoping someone else would volunteer.

We can only assume they put something in the wine at the 11th Purley quiz night in June, because when they asked for helpers again that evening, we egged one another on to approach the leader and find out what it might entail. We spoke to one of the Cub leaders and the camp sounded pretty daunting. With one of us having no experience herding large groups of children around and the other having never camped in her life, surely we’d both be more of a hindrance to the team than a help.

Not wishing to be hasty, we decided that the best course of action would be to consider the idea over a cup of tea and a Danish pastry at the local bakery, when we had clearer heads. Three hours and several cups of tea later, we decided to take the plunge and brave it.

Lessons learnt at camp

The first thing we learnt about camp life is that garlic is added to nearly every meal. This isn’t just a matter of taste; it’s to help keep away biting insects – clever.

Food is cooked in enormous frying pans and billycans on an army surplus field-kitchen stove. Over the three days we spent on camp we had beef stew, chicken risotto and mince and vegetables, all of which were delicious. The leaders claimed that they catered for even the fussiest of Cubs and they weren’t wrong – there was very little waste at the end of each meal.

The desserts were equally impressive, including Eton Mess – camp style! This consists of tinned fruit and custard and chocolate and butterscotch Angel Delight: something neither of us had eaten since we were kids.

Our fears of mealtime chaos were allayed – the Cubs were well-mannered and behaved. At the end of each meal, they followed a routine of stacking their plates and cutlery up at one end of each table and then took it in turns to wash and dry it all up, while the leaders washed up the cooking equipment – sheer organisational bliss.

The calm routine continued into the evenings with an after-dinner hike, followed by hot chocolate and singing around the campfire.

When we awoke the next morning we felt quite pleased with ourselves. We’d survived our first night at camp, and with the early morning tea and the discovery of hot running water in the shower block, we were ready to face anything.

And then the flood happened...

Camping spirit

A light shower turned into unrelenting torrential rain; drenching us all before we even had a chance to board the buses for our day trip. As if the deluge wasn’t enough, one of the buses refused to start; while the leaders, still dressed in sandals, tried to jump-start the bus, the Cubs proceeded to sing 10 Green Spiders while they waited.

Meanwhile, the track to our campsite had become a river. Things would have been much worse, however, if it had not been for the quick thinking of the Scout leaders, who had bundled up all the Cubs’ belongings in waterproof groundsheets when the rain started. They also barricaded the entrance of the mess tent with logs to prevent our food supplies from being destroyed and used trenching tools to divert the water away from the tents. Professionals every step of the way...

The camaraderie and teamwork we experienced that day was the turning point for us; it felt like we were really getting into the camping spirit.

‘Backwards’ cooking

True to our ignorance of all things camping, when we were told how lunch was going to be prepared the next day, we couldn’t quite visualise the techniques involved in cooking ‘backwards’.

‘No, it’s backwoods cooking,’ we were told, ‘which is cooking on a campfire - forwards.’

With that embarrassment out of the way, the Cubs proceeded to build campfires with the leaders. The Cubs cooked their own burgers and chocolate banana-splits while the leaders cooked bread (with garlic on it of course). The Cubs were delighted and proud of themselves at having cooked their first meal independently at camp – another life skill to add to their growing number of achievements.

After swimming lessons and a twilight hike, the Cubs settled down to sleep much earlier than the previous night, giving us the chance to unwind around the embers of the campfire with a little cheese and wine under the stars. This was the kind of camping we were hoping for.

Time to leave

The next morning, after breakfast, it was time to say our goodbyes. In the short time we’d been on camp, we had gone from doubting whether we’d make it past the first night without calling an emergency taxi home, to not wanting to leave.

The children amazed us in how resilient and adaptable they were; they are capable of much more than we parents realise. The four days enabled us to see first-hand what goes into making these events so special for the young people. It couldn’t happen without the dedication and time given by the leaders and the support from young leaders and parents.

We learnt that all help, no matter how small, does make a difference.

We still don’t do camping. But when it comes to helping out on Cub camp, we would definitely do it again. It was an event we felt privileged and proud to be a part of.

 

Tell us your own camping stories: scouting.magazine@scouts.org.uk

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