The Sound of Camping


To me, one of the most evocative sounds of a campsite has to be that of aluminium tent poles hitting the ground. That ‘clang’ can signal the start of a holiday as the poles come out their bag and fall on the ground, ready to support your holiday home, or they can make you feel very smug as you lie snuggled up on a chilly morning and listen to your neighbour’s tent poles clanging as they pack up camp and go home, while you know you still have a few more days of camping bliss. Then, of course, when your turn to pack up comes, that same tent pole clang can be quite mournful as it announces the end of another camping trip.

There are many sounds that just say ‘camping’ to me – the sound of people laughing from campfires at night, or children shrieking and laughing as they play, or the sound of footsteps crunching along the road as people walk past your campsite at night on the way to the ablutions – and, of course, the sound of tent zips in the dark announcing that someone is up and about, instead of sleeping.

And who could deny that the most irritating campsite sound is that of air-mattresses being blown up, especially when it’s coming from the campers who arrived late and whose mattresses won’t blow up properly – or, even worse, from the neighbours whose mattresses go flat several times during the night and keep needing to be pumped up again. The only sound worse is that of snoring from the tent nearby. On one camping trip when my children were little, my daughters were convinced each night that a lion was roaring right near their tent, but it was only the elderly gentleman in the tent next door, snoring his way through the night. Pity his poor wife!

A camping sound I love is rain on my caravan. I love being snuggled up inside, with rain beating down, feeling safe and cosy. Or on rainy afternoons, sitting under the rally awning, watching rain come down and hearing it drum on the canvas – I enjoy that sound, too. Then there is the drama and excitement of being in a thunderstorm, whether during the day or night – but especially when you watch the storm roll in over the sea, and you time each flash of lightning to the boom of the thunderclap which is sure to follow. A weather sound I’m less fond of is wind howling around my ’van. The sound of wind rising always gets us scurrying about, checking guy-ropes and, perhaps, putting storm-straps over the tent to keep it down. I don’t enjoy the feeling of wind buffeting the caravan, making it rock, and I worry about the tent being flipped over the caravan. (I’ve seen this happen!)

One of the scariest sounds I’ve heard when camping is that of water rushing, which happened when the river we camped near started rising. We spent an anxious night shining a torch on the river and watching the flood waters. Fortunately we were safe, but the sound of a river in flood is frightening! Talking of scary sounds, the sound of lions roaring near camp is thrilling – and a little frightening, too! I love all the bushveld sounds, from hyenas jabbering to zebras yipping; and the bird sounds are also wonderful – one of the loveliest I’ve heard is a night-jar. All the sounds of the African bush are my idea of music.

Of course, canvas is somewhat less than soundproof, especially in quiet places like the Kruger Park, allowing embarrassing sounds also to carry very well. My husband found this out on one camping trip to Berg-en-Dal camp with the whole family, including my oldest daughter’s new boyfriend, Kevin. My husband thought he was alone at our campsite and decided to get rid of the gaseous results of the baked beans we’d had for lunch. He let rip – and then, in the silence that followed, he was both horrified and highly amused to hear Kevin’s voice coming from his little one-man tent: ‘And… we have a winner!’

Fortunately, this incident didn’t scare Kevin away from joining our family, and he is now our son-in-law.

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