Six months ago we got an email from a family who were trying something completely brave, inspiring and scary: moving out of their house and spending a year living in a tent. They had a Frontier Stove and loved it, using it to heat their tent, brew their morning coffee and cook their meals on. We've been following their progress the whole way through, and sometimes almost feel that it's us out there in the canvas tent battling the elements and running free across Dartmoor. Check out their blog A Wild Year to read all about heir adventures; you can also follow them on Twitter and Facebook!
Deciding to completely up sticks and move is a huge decision, and probably something that a lot of people consider doing without ever actually taking the plunge. What gave you the push to do it?
A couple of years ago we had the chance to work together, spending our time exploring beautiful places while researching our book, Wild Running (wildrunning.net). After our second child was born we found ourselves working apart, missing our kids growing up and missing each other. We had a look at our budget to see what we could change to make our life better for our family and our adventures, and the rent was by far our greatest expense, so the house had to go!
Where’s the best place you’ve camped so far? Anywhere you couldn’t wait to get away from?
We spent most of the winter down in the South Hams, running around on deserted beaches, exploring the coast path and watching the sun set over the sea. That was really special. Lots of campsites are a bit spooky in the winter though. We heard gunshots quite near the tent in the middle of the night at one - we were pretty keen to leave there!
What is the hardest part of living in a tent? Is there anything that you really, really miss?
I think the hardest thing is long spells of rainy weather. Everything gets wet and muddy, it's hard to dry anything out and the kids don't like being stuck in the tent. I miss long, hot showers. Campsite showers can be a bit hit-and-miss!
You mention on your blog that one of the best things about living in a tent is that you get to spend so much more quality time with the kids. Have you noticed a difference in them since the big move?
Our youngest is only just 1, so he's spent about half his life camping! He looks pretty well on it though and is just learning to walk around the tent. Our daughter will be 4 soon and she seems to be thriving. She gets to experience and explore all sorts of beautiful places, run, climb, paddle and meets lots of different people. She loves playing with other kids and, especially now the weather's improving, there are often lots of families on campsites which is great. It's hard to know what she'd have been like if we had taken a more traditional route but she seems to enjoy it and is learning a diverse range of things in a multitude of ways.
What are you most looking forward to about spring and summer?
Much of winter camping is spent simply staying warm, so the warmer weather has made a massive difference to our daily lives. The lighter evenings mean we can stay out exploring for longer. We used to rely on music, DVDs, reading and playing games from quite early on every evening, which is still lovely but it's nice to have the choice. We're looking forward to being able to do some more foraging (the kids LOVE berries but they're expensive so it's great when we can wonder about picking wortleberries and then blackberries for free!) and swimming later in the year.
What have you learned that was unexpected?
That the British winter is really hard going when you don't have a house. It makes you a lot more aware of those who aren't doing this out of choice. Also that the night sounds amazing, and totally different in each place.
Braving the elements in a tent over winter takes some serious guts – did you get really cold?
We couldn't let the kids get cold, so a lot of winter was taken up with staying warm. The Frontier stove became the hub of our lives for a while: we'd get up early and light it and often keep it going all day and well into the evening. Nights were sometimes trickier as we didn't want to have to get up every couple of hours to add fuel to the fire and it's also quite stressful having the stove on over night. We invested in a good goose down duvet and sleeping bags, and sometimes added blankets too!
What about food - do you cook a lot in the tent? What’s your favourite thing to cook? Have you had any tent-cooking disasters? Do you make things like your morning cup of tea or coffee on your stove?
We are big tea and coffee fans (caffeine becomes extremely necessary when camping with a baby!) so the 3-litre water heater that wraps around the Frontier's flue is brilliant. We keep it topped up constantly so we have an endless supply of hot water for drinks, cooking, baths and hot water bottles. When the weather's bad we'll usually cook in the tent. We do a lot of curries, pasta, risotto - that kind of thing. We narrowly averted a disaster the night our tent blew down in the gales back in November. We'd planned to cook a curry but at the last moment decided to run away to the pub as the weather was getting worse and worse. When we arrived back at the campsite the two main poles of the tent had folded in half. It would have been terrifying to have been inside when it happened.