Written By: Christie Quimby
Sophistication and civilization abounded in the growing cities of the 1800s. There were all kinds of new gadgets, like refrigeration, telephones and an astounding new invention called the light bulb. Industrialization was creating an ideal world for upper crust city dwellers who could want for nothing. Except that, as it turned out, what many discovered they wanted was to escape the stifling new confines of city life. The once largely-unwelcome necessity of camping outdoors was ironically poised to become a new multi-national pastime.
The world can thank Dr. R.W. Gordon Stables and his mystically named caravan “Wanderer” for modern day camping. His engagement of the Bristol Carriage Company to custom-build a horse-drawn dwelling purely for luxury and leisure was the documented kickoff of caravanning. Stables compiled his cross country adventures with Wanderer in the 1886 book “The Cruise of the Land Yacht Wanderer”. His dry humor, wit and keen observations no doubt inspired many a future camper.
Another outdoor enthusiast, Thomas Holding was already 42 when Stables published his tale. Holding was a respectable London tailor by trade, but had crossed the rugged American plains with a wagon train at the impressionable age of 9. As an adult, Holding continued tent camping and then began to combine it with various canoe and bicycling trips. His outings eventually led to the book “Cycle and Camp in Connemara”. He shared adventurous stories of days spent biking and camping with three friends as they made their way through Ireland in 1898.
Looking for other like-minded enthusiasts, Holding asked readers who might be interested in cycling and camping to contact him. The response was terribly underwhelming. Three years and 13 members later, The Association of Cycle Campers was finally founded. Their inaugural camp was in an Oxfordshire orchard and consisted of 6 gentleman campers dressed in dignified tweed suits sleeping under heavy canvas tarps.
Yet like a campfire, where there was smoke, there was fire. By 1906 the association was indeed on fire. It amassed several hundred members in just 5 years. With his considerable experience Holding wrote another book, simply titled “The Campers Handbook” . Always the gentleman, Holding offered advice on such important matters as choosing camping companions. He wrote: “…preferably those with ‘Good temper, patience, willingness, love of fresh air, absence of dandified fads, good health, common sense, moderate love of nature, first-class appetite, stability and intelligence.’” He also advised leaving women and newlywed men at home, as both were known to ruin the fun.
The humble beginnings of Holding’s small association continued to grow despite two World Wars and Holdings’ own death in 1930. The name of the club was changed several times over the years to match changing public interest. Eventually it became The Camping and Caravanning Club. Today, the association has become the largest camping club in Britain, with over 300,000 members and international service. It is over 110 years old and still going strong. Obviously much has changed during this time. However, it would seem that despite all the technological advancements available to society, the grass is still greener when you are camping.