I'm going to start straight off and state that I really don't think there is anything eco about holidaying. But I didn't half need a break!
I once read that you should build a life from which you don't need a holiday - sage advice - but not necessarily something that the majority can do. Whilst I probably feel less inclined than most to depart from normal life (as normal life for me is pretty enjoyable!) it is nice, once in a while, to leave the distractions behind and find a new corner to explore.
Flying is ruled out immediately - not just on account of the environmental impact, but also because there are too many of us to make it feasible! And although a foreign jaunt is appealing, we are lacking in passports and the means to make it happen comfortably. The weather has been so fine this year though, that actually staying on home turf is not a bad option!
The UK has plenty of unchartered territory for us, and with vaguely predictable weather, making an active choice to stay in the country was perfectly viable. The first choice, Mull, however was ruled out last minute due to rain and low temperatures, and instead we picked Norfolk, somewhere we had never ventured.
We camp - two tents, seven sleeping bags, and all the clobber that goes with it - which required two cars (albeit tiddly ones). Much as I'd prefer not to drive, public transport wasn't realistic and cycling? Well I think the little ones would object to 220 miles! We jumped straight in with the first campsite we found, Church House Wild Camping in a little village called Guestwick. No showers, off site toilets, but only a few, large pitches and the all important fire pit.
I like camping because it really, really makes you rationalise your life, which is always thought provoking and usually inspiring! Nothing is carried that isn't essential, and you become quick to realise just how few things are required to function day-to-day. I'm easily overwhelmed by 'stuff,' so I find this really liberating and I always return with the resolve to have a good old sort out at home!
And then there's the resources. Of course you have no electricity, so solar is in order. Limited by daylight, it's easy to tune into natural rhythms, rising at dawn and hunkering down at dusk, sleeping earlier than is normal but waking more refreshed. Without a charging point, the devices take a back seat too, but that forces a break from the distractions of pinging notifications, allowing brains to unwind and shoulders to un-knot. Conversations become more meaningful and fun, and simple time fillers take the place of social media twiddling.
Water on our site was limited. There was no on-site supply, although the owners kindly and reliably filled and returned our containers each morning. Every spare bit was saved and reused (washing water for soaking pans for example), we were hyper-conscious of spillages and the washing up bowl was positioned carefully next to the tent to capture overnight rainfall! With no showers, we made use of the sea and public showers at the local swimming baths. Having a bathroom started to seem like an unnecessary luxury, and even with a tentful of teens, we managed to stretch the inter-bathing period without ponginess!
Warmth was provided by extra layers, blankets and our much-looked-forward-to evening campfire. We were provided by logs, but salvaging thistle down for firelighters and dried twigs from the hedgerows and fields surrounding us was a daily task. Sparks were provided by the natural flint nodules that littered the trackways, caveman style!
Food is a big, big part of our family life and with only a small gas stove, calorie dense pasta, no-cook couscous, bread and pulses were stock favourites. We took our Wonderbag, which was great for limiting gas use (and for sitting on!), but sadly we still used 2 small canisters. The words 'propane/butane mix' caught me off guard every time I clicked it on - I never think too much about the methane from the gas hob, but for some reason, this made me a little panicky. The kids gorged themselves on the brambles that had ripened in the hedges, narrowly avoiding the argumentative wasps, and we found chestnuts and walnut trees, the latter just ripe enough to be edible, as well as an untouched stash of ripened hazelnuts. There will be a disappointed and confused squirrel somewhere... We spotted sheep's sorrel at the edge of our pitch too, bought local honey and scrumped plenty of wilding apples. The prudent camper holidays during peak foraging season it seems! But even with super sharp recycling, and burning paper and card on the fire, we still generated substantially more waste than at home - maybe five times as much over the course of the week. It seems that relying on convenience foods really does have an impact, particularly on our output of plastic.
One of the things most marked about our holiday destination was the lovely sense of community. Guestwick is a tiny hamlet, but it has an active village hall and looks forward to a Christmas fair later this year! We spent a very enjoyable evening in the adjacent church learning about the Norfolk Bats in Churches project and watching the emergence of hundreds of bats inside using infra red cameras. As complete strangers, we were made to feel so welcome and it was really great to find out more about our host village and its friendly residents.
Not all our holiday was eco-contemplation: we kayaked and swam and ate ice cream and fish and chips, bought unnecessary books, bickered and fought, fired never-to-be-recovered footballs into ditches and felt glum sat in the rain. The horseflies got us several times and the mosquitos more, and the traffic jams and crowded streets got us flustered and cross. But there is something special about falling asleep feeling the cool of the breeze outside and listening to the hoot of owls in the distance, and a week on, I still can't bear to shut the outside out overnight.
Norfolk, you charmed us. We will take our happy memories home and return next year for more.
Treading Lightly is simple living, within your means and the means of the planet, and making a minimal impact on the Earth. Find out more here about Catherine, of Barefoot Solutions, does this from day to day.