It was just another average British summer’s day as I was walking up the high street with my parents in a random but lovely little Sussex town, eating lemon flavoured ice cream… in the rain. By the way, lemon flavoured ice cream is AWESOME!
Anyhoo, it got me thinking about a favourite British summer holiday. CAMPING! It was the rain that made me nostalgic. It ALWAYS rains when you go camping in the UK. Every year for probably 90% of my childhood we went camping. This wasn’t ordinary camping though. Oh no. This was Bible Week Camping! And I LOVED it.
In the Beginning, there was Dales Bible Week (aka Gales Bible Week).
This was the year it didn’t just rain, but it poured…. And poured and poured and poured. I think I know how Noah felt. The ‘rents had gone to an evening meeting leaving my big brother in charge, although as he was only about 8yrs old at the time I’m sure there was an adult around to keep an eye on us. Well, that’s all well and good but when the heavens opened and the winds started up, it got pretty scary! The adults in the meeting hadn’t realised how bad it was but tents were being unpegged by the wind and blown away like paper as the rain lashed down around us. The designated adult was busy trying to save tents and no doubt see to other kids and no matter how loud we cried and yelled for help no one came. It was all we could to hold on to our A frame tent for dear life! A lot of people had to sleep in a barn that night. Luckily big bro and me were absolutely fabulous and managed to keep hold of our tent. No stinky old cow barn for us!
After Dales was Downs Bible Week.
For many years we went to Downs Bible Week. It was a lot closer to home, being held on the Sussex Downs. Downs was the scene for many an adventure, particularly with the crowd from Hastings when we met up each year, but I won’t go into those stories cos it wouldn’t be fair to traumatise the ‘rents so many years after the events!
In the early days there weren’t too many rules and this resulted in more than a few tents being accidently razed to the ground. They were too close together so a rule was introduced with a minimum amount of space between each tent. This helped not only lower the tent burning incidents but also the tripping over guy rope incidents. One kid ended up in hospital because she fell over one guy rope, landed on another and split her chin open. If you forgot your torch, you took your life in your hands trying to get back to your tent. It was like an assault course. Survival of the fittest!
By this time us kids went to our own meetings which were much more fun but still the weather was an issue. Every year it rained. Even if it was just one or two days, it rained but sometimes it just didn’t stop and someone always got flooded out. I don’t remember too many actual disasters at Downs although I’m sure there were some. The worst year weather-wise is now only ever referred to as Drowns by anyone who was there. Ok, it wasn’t as bad as this pic… but it was pretty bad! I’m sure there was a year where tents got blown away here too.
I didn’t really mind the rain too much, being a kid an’ all. I just walked around barefoot, squelching my toes in the mud, quite happy to look like I’d been dragged up in a mudpuddle. The adults weren’t so keen to walk around in bare feet so boards and hay were strewn around in a vain attempt to make certain areas walkable. It was a bit of a pain when you never had any dry clothes but seeing as we only lived a few miles down the road it wasn’t too bad. If it looked like there was no end in sight for the rain, one of the ‘rents would take our clothes home, wash and dry them and then come back. Sorted!
After Downs was Stoneleigh Bible Week.
By this time I was an adult. The manchild was just a baby, one year old. He was walking already so to stop him wandering off I bought an extendable dog leads. I attached one end to his reigns and staked the other end in the ground in the middle of the surrounding tents. Who needs a playpen?! Job done.
We had a variety of interesting summers there. The following year it was so unbearably hot that I would go into the shower fully clothed to cool down and literally within 5 minutes I was bone dry again. It was the hottest week EVER. . Walking inside a tent was akin to putting a pork joint in a preheated oven. Your skin started to crackle!
Another year almost everyone onsite was getting flooded. It reached a point where everyone was moved into the onsite buildings for safety. It was a squeeze but if there’s one thing us Brits are good at, it’s pulling together and making do. My sis in law was running around barefoot trying to help organise people and provisions. She’s good at that. As she hurried around the corner there was no carpet and where her feet had gotten wet they slipped on the tiles, flew out from under her straight up in the air which threw her whole body backwards. She landed on the back of her head with such a thud, knocked herself out completely sparko! She wouldn’t wake up for ages and had to be taken to hospital. Still, somehow she managed not to drop the walkie talkies so that was good! (She was fine in the end but we did have to keep an eye on her for the remainder of the week as she wasn’t entirely sure whether she was coming or going for a while.)
The final straw for the ‘rents was the year mum had a teensy bit of an accident involving a gas lamp and their trailer tent….
There’d been a strong gas smell lingering and suspecting it might be the camping fridge, mum took it outside, cleaned the pipes, brought it back in and relit the pilot light… WHOMP!
A flame erupted and shot up her trouser leg! It wasn’t the fridge. It was a leaky gas lamp in the little closet area next to the fridge. When she lit the pilot, it ignited the ball of gas that had been trapped. She quickly tried to put out the flames and I ran outside, tried to soak a towel and ran back in with it but it was barely wet and did nothing. Instead of running out of the tent, we kept trying to put out the fire. A neighbour ran in and grabbed up the little manchild who had only just been put to bed, and whisked him out of harms way. We just had to leave the tent to burn. There’s something rather silly about watching your underwear drying on a clotheshorse, through the sides of a burning tent. But guess what? Although it was a little breezy and some sparks floated off towards nearby tents, no other tents burnt down! That minimum space rule really works. And something unexplainable happened that day too. Almost everything in the tent got damaged by the heat or flames; everything except the bibles. There must have been at least 4 or 5 bibles in the tent all in different places and not one was burnt. They were wet from the fire brigade hoses and smelled a bit smokey but mum separated all the pages with tissue paper and they dried out absolutely fine.
Mum wasn’t really keen to ever go camping again. As for me, I woke up the next morning with tonsillitis from all the stress but I still love camping.
After Stoneleigh there was nothing for a while. Now they do bible week for the kids.
5,000+ teens all meet each year for NewDay and it’s a fantastic atmosphere. I’ve gone a few times as a volunteer, helping to feed a churchload of hungry teens and workers. The pink tent was mine. Cos I’m cool!
Although it has rained at Newday most years, I don’t know of any major disasters… unless you count 2008 when the manchild got kicked out and sent home for breaking all the rules! I know I smoked at camp when I was a teen but never INSIDE the tent anywhere near the grown ups, you dozy boy! I think he got it mixed up with Glastonbury.