A couple of years ago I came away from a living history event with the seed germ of an idea. I’d been knocking around re-enactment groups for about twenty five years and I was feeling a bit jaded. Definitely looking for some new scenery. I was starting to get into Steampunk, an aesthetic that I’ve always liked but all the events I went to seemed to be about shopping and promenading in fancy clothes. The music scene wasn’t really grabbing my attention but I did like the retro look. Victoriana with a bit of creativity.
What I was looking for was some camping and outdoor life with that Retro \ Steampunk vibe running through it but I wasn’t finding any.
I talked to lots of people that said they wanted something like that as well but I couldn’t find anyone actually doing it.
I started sounding out the idea online and found considerable interest in the Steampunk community and also amongst re-enactors and the Bushcraft community but still found nothing happening.
When an opportunity came up to use a beautiful camp site in the Midlands, complete with a Scout Hut, for the early May bank holiday weekend 2018. I took a huge risk and booked it.
Almost instantly, most of the people that had shown interest online from the Re-enactment and Steampunk communities backed away saying they had other things to do. It was easy to see why nobody had tried to do this sort of thing before.
Whilst this was not overly surprising, it was discouraging. I was almost tempted to give up, there and then, cut my losses and forget the whole thing, but a few of the bushcrafters were still intrigued.
I held my nerve and pushed on. I think somebody once said “If you build it, they will come.” I had fairly good idea of what could be achieved but it would be down to us to prove it.
We organised a small photo shoot on the Halloween weekend. bushcrafters are not put off by a little cold weather, and with a handful of decent pictures we started promoting the idea on here and on FaceBook.
The interest certainly grew but there was not much sign of commitment really.
In the end it was a small gathering, not much larger than the photo shoot but we were treated to the best weather anyone could have hoped for.
Many people in the bushcraft community already enjoy a traditional approach to camping. Low tech, retro styled equipment combined with a make it and modify it yourself attitude are, in many ways, perfectly in tune with the Steampunk ethos.
I knew the practical side of the event would be no problem but I didn’t know how things would balance between the simple old school camping and the more eccentric aspects of Steampunk.
When Steve had finished pitching his tent and hung his newly finished Iron Hat over the entrance, I knew I had no worries.
What was great to see was how many people had been gathering paraphernalia and making their own clothing.
We’ve all taken our first tentative steps into a new environment but the sheer enthusiasm and curiosity on show from everyone here was very encouraging.
A new type of event is always going to be a learning curve of course. I think I probably learned as much as anyone over the weekend but one thing that is almost universal amongst the camping fraternity is the easy comradeship of the camp fire.
New friendships were made and old ones refreshed. Most people were perfectly capable of being independent but the communal fire rig soon became the beating heart of the camp, as I hoped it would.
One thing I must say. After thirty years or so of camping with Re-enactors, Larpers, Bushcrafters and many others, I have become used to the early morning ritual of cleaning up the campfire circle. Removing bottles and beer cans, plastic bags and fag ends. Sadly, it’s almost universal.
Imagine my surprise then, when rising early on the first morning, as is my custom, to find the camp spotless ! Not one thing needing to be picked up ! and not just around the camp fire but throughout the whole camp. I could have wept with joy. After all these years, these are exactly the sort of people I want to camp with.
We had decided to hold a best dressed tent competition for a bit of fun and Damian and his brother produced some fabulous medals and a set of chips that people could cast their votes with. Debs and I disqualified our set up as we had been at this sort of thing a bit longer than everyone else and when the chips were counted on Sunday the results were clear. Given here in traditional order.
The Bronze medal went to Phil’s amazing collection of equipment, all squeezed into in the smallest tent of the camp.
The Silver medal went to Pete, with possibly the largest tent but sadly I only seem to have taken a picture of the table outside.
Another fine collection of interesting stuff though.
The clear winner on this camp though was Colin with a mid sized wall tent laid out in simple but very effective style, well done to all the winners.
As the light fades at the end of the day, the camp takes on a different kind of atmosphere.
As a photographer, this has always been my favourite time of the day but when camping it heralds the most social aspect of camp life.
I think there is something very special, almost primal, about the act of gathering around the hearth at night.
I have made some of the best friendships of my life around the warm glow of the camp fire.
The company on this weekend was good indeed and I very much look forward to future encampments with one and all.
It is wise to bring a comfortable chair and wood and canvas “director’s” chairs were a popular choice which maintained the retro look very well.
An enamel or tinware cup serves well for drinking and a bag or box to hide your empties makes it all the easier to keep track of your belongings in the darkness.
The fire rig was built to form a communal focal point for the camp. It provides constant hot water for tea and coffee and cooking facilities for all.
I think it is fair to say that most established campers enjoy good food while under canvas.
Not for us dehydrated rations and burned offerings.
I learnt a long time ago that there is no less control when cooking over a camp fire than most people expect on their stove at home.
Hanging griddles, cast iron pots and Victorian conveniences such as ratcheting pot hangers provide good control of temperature.
A clockwork bottle jack even turns your meat in front of the fire to get a nice even roast.
If you ever wondered why Steampunks wear goggles, it’s all the better to see their food with.
We had a communal Bangers and Mash night on Saturday for all that wanted to join in. Certainly, nobody went hungry.
Decanting your drink into something you don’t need to hide is, of course, another way to go and adds a touch of style as well.
Everyone brought a lamp or two for which there was communal paraffin available. This provided good illumination for safe passage through the camp at night but also created a magical atmosphere.
A stick with a point at one end and a hook at the other is an easy convenience for hanging the light at a much better level for working with.
Although it would have been nice to have a few more people at our first event, we all agreed it had been a resounding success and inspired us all with more plans for the future.
( A spot of birdwatching. )