The Art of Camping: The History and Practice of Sleeping Under the Stars

I am pleased to announce that my book The Art of Camping: The History and Practice of Sleeping Under the Stars will be published next year July 2011 by Hamish Hamilton, as reported in the Bookseller.

Cath and Math camping The Art of Camping

The last year has been largely spent researching and preparing a proposal for the book, which I am currently deep in the throes of writing. The book will include American characters such as Ernest Thompson Seton, Nessmuk and Horace Kephart alongside the eccentric, progressive British camping movements of The Kindred of the Kibbo Kift and The Order of Woodcraft Chivalry. Thomas Hiram Holding will stand beside Edward Whymper, American Indian beside Romany Gypsy, Buckminster Fuller beside Stewart Brand, on a campsite where Glastonbury, Woodstock, neolithic hunters, and the Boston Methodist camp meetings of the nineteenth century are all taking place simultaneously.

So, I’ve got my work cut out. Wish me luck

Matthew De Abaitua

Cath is also contributing to the book. She is currently setting down her thoughts on taking babies camping; the first woman to join the Camping Club, Mrs F. Horsefield, took her boys of twelve years and her baby of twelve months camping, and we have just returned from the festival where there was a baby of about a month old. Β It can be done.

  18 comments for “The Art of Camping: The History and Practice of Sleeping Under the Stars

  1. Jim
    August 10, 2010 at 4:03 pm

    Hi Matthew,

    I was wondering what your thoughts might be as regards my current research title, ‘Can the Design of a Campervan positively affect the holiday experience’

    Look forward to your reply


  2. admin
    August 10, 2010 at 4:11 pm

    I have never camped in a camper van.
    Matthew De Abaitua

  3. August 31, 2010 at 12:11 am

    I was just turned on by a friend to the announcement about your upcoming book. In 2000 I did a book called Camping In The Old Style. I have been working on a history of US camping for about 3 years and have partnered with Steve Watts to create a series of books on classic camping skills. I would love to chat with you sometime. It sounds like we have moved on parallel trails.

  4. August 31, 2010 at 12:14 am

    P.S. I forgot mention, we are hosting Camp and Trail, the first international symposium on classic camping and bushcraft, here at the base of the Tetons in Idaho, August 1-6, 2011. We’ll be announcing it on the blog soon. DW

  5. admin
    August 31, 2010 at 9:53 am

    I have just completed a first draft of my chapter on The Call of the Campfire, covering some of the individuals you mention in the introduction to your book, particularly Nessmuk and Ernest Thompson Seton, Theodore Roosevelt and John Muir, and the Philosophers’ Camp. I must get a copy of Camping in the Old Style. There is a big difference between camping as practised in the US as against camping in the UK, mainly because of the difference in the land, in the readily available American wilderness. Campfires, for example, have mostly been forbidden from UK camp sites and their recent comeback is still something of a novelty.
    Matthew De Abaitua

  6. Steve Watts
    August 31, 2010 at 6:49 pm

    Matthew, Glad to see that my colleague David Wescott has gotten in touch with you. You sound like a kindred spirit. As he said, we’re looking to follow up on his classic Camping In The Old Style with a new series of classic camping skills books. Part of our work over the past few years has involved traditionl camping re-enactments with period, clothing, gear, food, etc. Is anyone in the UK up to such?
    Steve Watts

  7. Steve Watts
    August 31, 2010 at 7:10 pm

    Just to follow up: Our demonstrations camps focus on the 1920’s. We’ve done three (a fourth one coming up next month) at the Cradle of Forestry in America (a US National Forest Service historic site in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina), one at the 75th Anniversary of the Blue Ridge Parkway (National Park System) and are scheduled for our second Horace Kephart Days event (celebration the Dean of American Campers) in Kephart’s adopted home, Bryson City, NC–where he wrot Camping and Woodcraft and Our Southern Highlanders.

  8. admin
    September 1, 2010 at 9:58 am

    There are a few people giving woodcraft classes near me in Sussex, but not the full camping re-enactment that you propose, which sound invigorating and enlightening. There is a revival of the bell tent in the UK, the old military tent that is similar to the Sibley Tent; the reappearance of the bell tent is closest British come to exploring their camping heritage: to be fair, our camping past is far more genteel than the wilderness adventures the American landscape affords.

  9. Steve Watts
    September 1, 2010 at 1:19 pm

    Just know that British gentility is appreciated even by us rough old American types. The bell tents have a lot of charm for me. Ah, old BP on Brownsea Island!

  10. October 19, 2010 at 1:14 am

    Hi, this is a great project you have carved out for yourself.
    I am a fan and of the old style and most of my gear reflects that fact.
    I know Dave Westcot, his book is great and cannot wait until the rest of the series comes out. I have never met Steve Watts, but have reviewed his books in Wilderness Way magazine here in the states.
    I was a field editor and writer for 7 years with “Wilderness Way ” magazine here , it seems to have gone belly up. Too bad.
    Anyway I have a passion for the old style and collecting the old style gear where ever and and whenever I can. Just when I think Im done, nope got to have one of those.
    Best of luck with the book and will be looking forward to it.

    Regards Dude Mclean

  11. October 19, 2010 at 1:19 am

    I forgot to mention::: All of my 3 children were camping with us from the time they were a month old. Just have take care they are warm and do not get damp etc.
    they a;lways loved it.
    They are all grown now and all 3 are avid campers. A son and two daughters.
    I hope to make that trek to Dave Westcotts camp in 2011..


  12. admin
    October 19, 2010 at 9:09 am

    Thanks Dude. I still have a couple of chapters to write; yesterday I was watching old films of Henry Ford and Thomas Edison camping together. There weren’t camping in the old style as they had a sizeable entourage, cooks and a dining tent. But Ford could really chop wood. They have John Burroughs with them, in his eighties, a spry long-bearded lean figure who had the measure of these two great industrialists.
    Next up is Horace Kephart’s Camp Cookery. The question is: has anyone cooked his beaver tail recipe?
    Matthew De Abaitua

  13. Michael Vanags
    January 24, 2011 at 6:40 pm

    Dude Mclean, e-mail me please.

  14. Joolsy
    July 1, 2011 at 11:54 pm

    Enjoyed your piece today on Radio 4! I’m interested in your ideas on how to make camping & camping equipment more accessible – not just in relation to the narrow definition of wheelchair-accessible, but in relation to many disabilities. In my past experience of camping (which I have mostly enjoyed) much of the activity (sleeping, cooking, etc) takes place at floor level!

    For example, now I’ve had 3 x spinal surgeries a sleeping bag on the groundsheet is just not do-able and even reduced-height beds require a fixed point on which to haul myself up from (I now avoid trendy hotels….)

    I love living out of doors, I currently get my OOD-fix by being taken on long fishing trips at Chesil beach with folding chair, camping stove et al and brewing up on the beach all day long whilst hoping for mackerel for the bucket bbq. But packing up at the end of the day is just not the same! We have mooted the idea of camping for a couple of days for free directly on the beach there – disguised as proper fishermen πŸ™‚

    Camping used to be a choice for the cash-poor but now seems to be impossible unless you drive (shove it all in the car), have a very strong physique (for carrying it all on your back) or have a load of money (pay for it all to be there in advance). Dammit I fall into the impossible minority. Good luck with the book!!

  15. admin
    July 2, 2011 at 9:15 am

    I was thinking about this issue of camping, accessibility and disability on my way into Radio 4; addressing a large audience, I remind myself that assumptions I make about my own situation will not be shared across the many, and so to (try to) avoid making those assumptions. I remembered that a photograph taken at a camping meeting of the Kindred of the KIbbo Kift – a radical woodcraft group of the 1920s that I investigate in my book – included a woman, May Billinghurst, and her wheelchair. I realised that I did not know how or if the camp was adapted for May – who was a paraplegic suffragette – or whether she was visiting for the day. Also she had other suffragettes to help her. The Kibbo Kift sent their gear ahead of them, to be set up by a few in advance of their arrival – I wonder if there is an option of having one’s own gear sent to the campsite and set up that is cheaper than renting a bell tent but doesn’t require hauling it around the public transport system. Have you spoken to the camping and caravan club? they must have relevant knowledge considering their history and sizeable membership.
    Thanks for the best wishes
    Matthew De Abaitua

  16. Joolsy
    July 2, 2011 at 12:56 pm

    Thanks for the reply Matthew! I’ll act on your suggestions – and thanks for the fascinating info on May.

    Relatives of mine recently went yurt-camping with a friend who is a wheelchair user, ramping is very easy for temporary structures, more so than for caravans & houses. Perhaps it’ll be the next big thing for accessible travel – semi-camping in flexible spaces?

    Hope the book goes from strength to strength!

  17. admin
    July 2, 2011 at 1:21 pm

    On the Yurt front, this campsite in Scotland has pre-pitched tipis in the woods, with planked trails for access, is accessible by public transport and has (if I remember correctly) disabled showers. It also allows fires and is pretty fantastic, and is away from the worst of the midge.

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