Big Wild Sleepout in Dorset: How camping can be rewarding experience

PUBLISHED: 10:08 26 July 2016 | UPDATED: 10:08 26 July 2016

Tom with his son Sam on a camping trip

Tom with his son Sam on a camping trip


Tom Clarke of the RSPB reveals how spending a night outside under a starry canopy can be a positive and rewarding experience for everyone - whatever their age

Once you become an adult the child-like lust for adventure, particularly when it comes to camping, can diminish and you find yourself in one of three ‘camps’ of people who don’t go camping. Camp one are those who loved camping as children, but are now swayed by cheap flights to more exotic climes; the second group of non-campers would like to wild-sleep, but now with children – no way; And, finally, you’re in the last camp if you’re someone who never ever wants to camp ever because of the bad night’s sleep, spiders in your mouth and the having to toilet outside by torchlight at 2am.

The RSPB, whom I work for in Dorset, are determined to buck this trend with their popular Big Wild Sleepout event on 29-31 July, now in its fourth consecutive year. I’m here to persuade everyone to spend a night outside under Dorset’s beautiful starry canopy and reveal how much positivity you’ll gain from the experience.

1. Camping at home is the ultimate micro adventure

I grew up in London and as well as camping in Dorset during the summer holidays, I also used to camp in the small back garden of our city terraced house - they were great adventures. Since having children of my own, I have discovered that simply sleeping outdoors with them in our Dorset garden is an excellent way of introducing them to camping itself and night time sounds. Outdoors sleeping opens up a whole new world for children, as they discover the nocturnal local wildlife that they share their own home with. 

2. It is a Dorset tradition

From the gypsy camps set up on Hardy’s Dorset heaths, to Baden-Powell’s scout camp on Brownsea Island - camping is part of Dorset’s heritage. If you haven’t seen Mike Leigh’s 1976 film ‘Nuts in May’, the seminal film about middle class camping experiences in Dorset, watch it! There’s nothing quite like the smell of a dewy Dorset field at 5am, so get out there and be part of it. It’s what Thomas Hardy would have wanted. 

3. Parenting is easier when you are camping

This may sound counter intuitive, but most parents find it easier to be in control when they have space between themselves and their children. My eldest child has autism - any change for him is challenging, so much so that holidays haven’t felt like holidays unless we’ve been at home or have gone camping. He’s now used to the tent - we set it up the same, sleep in the same places and bring the same books so that he knows what to expect. And we’ve learnt to keep the torch by me, as the strobe effect of my son repeatedly turning it on and off can turn even the most mild mannered of parents into a roaring monster. Sleeping outdoors has given my family some treasured memories.

4. Camping is good for your children and grandchildren

Everyone’s mental and physical wellbeing is improved by spending time in nature. On a school camping trip when I was 11-years-old, I shared a tent with a classmate for whom nature was totally alien. He was so terrified by the campfire story about a scary fox, that when a rustling was heard next to our tent in the middle of the night, he actually vomited. Don’t let that fear take hold of your children!

Today, there are many barriers for children not to get connected to nature - we’re all busy parents, children are not allowed to roam as perhaps we once did in our youth, and computer games can tempt them to spend huge amounts of time indoors.

Children crave adventure, so give them that head start by allowing them to explore Dorset’s incredible landscape. For the past four years, the RSPB Dorset team have been leading wild camps at Arne and the way in which the children come alive, leaping out of their shells, when given outdoors space and the permission to explore it, is just amazing. Last year at our Arne Big Wild Sleepout event, a boy ran up to me waving a big stick (I was cooking dinner over a campfire at the time) and screamed, “I’m free”. It was almost too perfect to be believed.

5. Ignore the bad night’s sleep

No one that I know goes camping for a good night’s sleep. Accept that you will be a little tired the next day. But I promise that your soul and your lust for life will have been given a mighty boost. So get outside, re-wild with Dorset’s outstanding nature and join in our Big Wild Sleepout this summer, I promise it will be worth it – whatever your age.

Join the Big Wild Sleepout - 29-31 July 2016

For more information and to order your Big Wild Sleepout activity pack, visit: For details about Big Wild Sleepout events at Arne and our campfire food evenings at Kingfisher Barn, in Muscliff, Bournemouth visit: and click on events or call 01929 553360.

If you are interested in booking a private group Big Wild Sleepout at Arne, contact Tom on or call 07775 912899. Share your Big Wild Sleepout experiences and pictures with us on Twitter #BigWildSleepout.

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