Camping is a fun pastime and is hugely popular in the UK. In places like Cornwall, you can find a large array of well-equipped campsites. Also, there are some beautiful spots where you can camp in the wild and get up close and personal with nature.

But where did this activity start? Who first camped in a tent? Why has it become so popular, and how has it evolved over the years? If you are interested in this outdoor activity, we take a look at the history of camping, particularly in the UK, and how it has developed – enjoy!

Early Beginnings in the UK

Camping is the process of staying overnight, in a different location, using some form of shelter. Typical forms of shelter include tents, hammocks, and recreational vehicles like caravans and campervans. This activity was originally developed in the UK as a type of holiday, but people worldwide now enjoy camping – It is most popular in the UK, France, and the United States.

Victorian Pleasure Boating & The River Thames

Although most people credit Thomas Hiram Holding (see below) as being the camping pioneer, the activity was first popularised in Victorian London. During the 1880’s, a craze developed for pleasure boating.

This is where groups of people would row on boats along the River Thames during fine weather. As an offshoot of pleasure boating, people would also set up tents and camp along the banks of the river so they had easy and convenient access to it.

Thomas Hiram Holding – The Original Camper

Whilst the people of London were camping on the banks of the River Thames, a travelling tailor named Thomas Hiram Holding was undertaking a different type of camping. During his youth, he had travelled across America with his parents – this had given him a great love of the outdoors.

As a result, in the early 20th century, he took a cycling and camping tour of across Ireland. After this exhilarating trip, he documented his experiences in the book “Cycle and Camp in Connemara”. The type of camping he undertook was different and more of a wild experience – pitching tents in random locations and truly experiencing nature up close and personal.

Formation of the Camping and Caravanning Club

After the publication of his book, Holding then created the first official camping club – the Association of Cycle Campers. This would eventually transform into the Camping and Caravanning Club. The association also created their first official campsite in Weybridge which would set a trend and prompt the creation of official campsites throughout the UK where campers could come together and enjoy the outdoors.

The Camping and Caravanning Club remains one of the most popular camping organizations in the UK. It currently has over 500,000 members, and there are 1600+ certified campsites.

Post-WW1 Revival and Development

Although camping was thriving, its popularity and general camping activity took a dive due to the outbreak of the First World War. During this period, little was done as efforts were concentrated on supporting the war effort.

However, after the First World War ended, interest in camping was revived. Also, the National Camping Club was formed, and it’s president was the legendary Sir Robert Baden-Powell who also founded the Scouts. From here, camping flourished and it became a leisurely activity that families would embark on.

Modern Camping – A Refined Art

Today, camping looks incredibly different to its beginnings in the early 1900’s. Back then, camping equipment was heavy and hard to transport. The technology was not refined, and during the Victorian era, camping equipment had to be transported to its location by boat or cart!

Can you imagine loading a boat full of camping equipment just for a weekend break? Luckily, we have access to modern camping gear that is inexpensive, lightweight, and durable. You can purchase lightweight two-man tents, for example, that can be packed away and folded up in a backpack!

The amenities of campsites, and the tools we have access to has also improved. Most campsites today have fully equipped toilet and shower blocks. Many will also have on-site restaurants and bars! You can also easily buy items like stoves, solar batteries, and chargers to make your camping trips more comfortable and convenient.

The types of camping have also evolved in the modern era. Three of the most popular types of camping are listed below: 

Glamping

Glamping is essentially glamorous camping. It is an evolved form of camping that offers greater comfort for the campers. Usually, a glamping site is pre set-up – the holidaymakers do not have to pitch a tent or bring much equipment. Everything is provided for, and it makes for a much easier experience. Think of glamping as camping without the hard work!

Wild Camping

Some people enjoy the hard work and the challenge, however. For some people, part of the experience is learning how to pitch a tent, finding an amazing campsite, and persevering with minimal equipment and comforts. For this type of person, wild camping is the way forward.

Today we call it wild camping; in Thomas Hiram Holding’s era, it would have simply been called camping! Wild camping is seeing a surge in popularity as people become braver and embrace nature. When wild camping, you are essentially heading out into the wilderness with your tent and equipment and finding a suitable place to camp. It is raw, it can be tough, but it is incredibly rewarding.

Modern Campsites

Finally we have modern campsites. This is a mixture of glamping and wild camping. On modern campsites, you get some amenities and facilities that make your experience easier. However, you still have to pitch your own tent.

Modern campsites are well-equipped and you can usually get a tent pitch with an electrical hook-up and water tap if you need it. Also, as mentioned above, many campsites have on-site facilities like a restaurant and toilet block.

It is interesting to see how camping has evolved from the early 1900’s. Originally, it started as a means to enjoy other pastimes and was limited somewhat by the equipment and lack of official campsites. However, with the founding of organizations like the Camping and Caravanning Club, camping has become a UK institution and something that millions of people enjoy!

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