Monday, 8 July 2013

Camping When It's Term Time (School on the Move)

One of the advantages of homeschooling is the ability to go on holiday when the prices are lower, the venues are less crowded, and the field trips can be clustered if they're far from home.

Recently, we took a camping trip in June for just that reason.

A tranquil little tent by the pond.

June? you might say.  Yes, in England, June is still smack in the middle of term time.  Even the private schools, which break up much earlier than the state sector, are limping toward the end of their term in June, not finishing till the first week of July.  Only A-level students, finished with exams, and some university students, are free for the summer by then; everyone else has to wait till July.

We decided on our campground based on an eclectic range of criteria: within 2 hours' drive, affordable price, allows campfires, working farm, fishing, and proper toilets/showers that aren't coin-operated. We chose Lower Hill Farm near Much Wenlock in Shropshire. Although this is a very handy place for the wonderful collection of Victorian-era museums in Ironbridge, we had already been there a few years before, so we opted instead for some English Heritage sites: Much Wenlock Priory and Wroxeter Roman City.

Our campsite, being on the footpath along Wenlock Edge, was close enough to the village to take a lovely forest stroll there and back.

Kids walk faster on their way back to camp!

The priory at Much Wenlock is near the town centre.  It's a tranquil little patch of a ruined priory, interesting to me for two reasons: first, it's about the only Cluniac church I've every seen (most are Cistercian or Benedictine, I think), and is, I think, the only one in England to have a lavabo, which is a big outdoor washing station for about 16 monks to use before going in to dine.

It wouldn't be a set of ruins that I'd take a special trip to see.  Not so much remains of it, and even the lavabo looks like a giant wheel-cog stuck in the middle of a little grassy square, having lost most of its carvings and its octagonal roofed structure in days gone by. It is, however, pleasant for a picnic, and fits into the wider study we've taken about medieval churches -- tiles like Winchester cathedral, a chapter house with some Viking-style carvings, a clear distinction between dressed stone versus the softer, more distressed stone underneath (now weathered and forlorn), and the knowledge that a woman saint was once buried near the eastern columns (now only circles in the grass), attracting pilgrims in much the same way as St Albans, St Birinus, St Thomas Becket, and the many other saints we've seen over the year.

Some walls still standing at Much Wenlock

The next day, Wroxeter required a car trip, along the smallest, narrowest, most challenging roads I think I've had the unlucky privilege to meet! Yet, it was worth it.  They have a number of interesting ruins to mooch around on one side of the road, and a recreated Roman villa on the other.  The villa seems to be a new project, with only some of the rooms furnished, but I was glad to be able to see it as a replica, helping me understand Roman life even better.

Recreated Roman Villa at Wroxeter

The great advantage of English Heritage sites is that, as home educators, we are able to apply in advance for free entry to the sites as an educational group. We don't even have to be members.

Back at the campsite, we had another educational experience when we learned to fish the English way.  First of all, the easiest and cheapest equipment were poles called "whips", which are basically telescopic poles with a bit of line on the end, a bobber, and a small, barbless hook.  Bait?  Just kernels of sweetcorn or even plain white bread.  No rod and reels, no lures, no worms -- nothing I grew up doing in Texas.  Also, no keeping the fish either.  In England, angling is strictly a sport, and though there are a few places which will let you keep the fish for eating, they will be few and far between, and are closely regulated.

Rocky and Killer use a net to get the carp
Another lesson was that of perseverance.  Poor Phoenix.  She sat and sat and sat, baited and re-baited, tossed out her line again and again and again, and in the end ...

Phoenix with her hard-earned catch
... caught the biggest carp of the day!

The nights of an English summer are very long in coming.  The fishing pictures above were both taken after dinner, probably about 9 pm.  It was about then that I lit the evening campfire, we sat around the flames, and told ghost stories (but not too scary, or the kids would have nightmares, and I'd have to cram too many people in my sleeping bag!).  

Family focus around the fire

We also continued our tradition of using wooden skewers to paint interesting patterns in the night sky -- a bit like sparklers without the spark.  We are very fond of this method, and highly recommend it to Americans whose children are afraid of sparklers on the 4th of July.  This is perfectly safe, and provides a lot more fun for the money.

Busy Timmy makes a halo with his skewer

Staying at a working farm had some great advantages, including being able to buy fresh sausages, and pork-and-apple hamburgers right out of the farmers' back door.  On my night to cook, I bought 15 burgers for our little homeschooling party of 10.  Two vegetarians, and yet, all burgers eaten!  Wow!

Rachel the Roaster BBQs some "dogs"

Finally, we came to packing up on the Thursday after three wonderful nights.  Having had no rain, all the equipment was dry (rare in England), and even though we'd eaten most of the food I'd brought, we were still struggling to find places for everything to fit in the van.  The biggest triumph was my being able to fold up the pop-up tents successfully -- having watched the instructional videos many-a-time, I felt proud to have been able to do it for real.

One 4-man tent, twisted and folded to the size of a bike tire


  1. Some differences between the States and England, but camping is still fun no matter how you do it. I grew up taking family vacations in September, when all the other kids were back in school. The discounts and easy entry were great, as was being able to call so many fun stops "educational". Now my husband and I are the ones doing the teaching, and we are adopting the same practice. We are off to Boston this fall, and the kids will be so busy having fun they won't know it is educational as well!

  2. LOL, Dana -- I thought you wrote "camping is no fun no matter how you do it" rather than giving the complete thumbs-up to it! Slip of the eyes!


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