Caught by the River

The Art of Camping

21st September 2011

by Matthew de Abaitua
Review by Nick Small.

At a time when tents are more often than not simply flotsam: pollution, popped up instantly and then discarded when the last dregs have been drained from a festival weekend, it’s great to find a book celebrating the tent in its more traditional guise at the heart of the camping trip.

The Art of Camping is a gleeful romp through the cultural history of camping, a celebration of camping as “otherness”, as an alternative to the urban lives that we lead. A quote from Horace Kephart nails it:

“To many a city man there comes a time when the great town wearies him. He hates its sights and smells and clangour. Every duty is a task and every caller is a bore. There come visions of green fields and far rolling hills, of tall forests and cool swift flowing streams”.

So Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Theodore Roosevelt and countless others since have succumbed to the lure of the campfire in the wilderness as the key to transcendental experience, to the spirit of oneness with nature, of kinship with the noble savage or simply as a way to get some fresh air and the glimpse of a distant horizon. This book knits their stories with those of woodcraft pioneers like George W Sears (Nessmuk), John Muir and Thomas Hiram Holding into an essay on our primal connection with the great outdoors.

It’s a very easy read, well researched and written in an effortlessly engaging style, illuminated by humour …. whether recollections of the author’s own hapless experiences on family camping trips or sharp observations on the art of packing, camp leadership, pitching a tent or breaking camp. It’s certainly no “how to” guide for the virgin camper…nor is it going to turn anyone into Ray Mears overnight. It might, however, throw some light into that corner of our consciousness that has us yearning for that indefinable something, something more simple, pure and uncluttered by the stuff and stress of modern existence…that same indefinable something, I suspect, that brings us to the pages of Caught By The River. I can’t recommend it highly enough.


The Art of Camping is published by Hamish Hamilton. We have copies on sale in the Caught by the River shop, priced £12.99