The Oxford Bell Tent

A few years ago, my friend and I had a big birthday party in a field on a campsite, with a huge campfire, a ceilidh and a weekend’s supply of home brewed beer. One of our friends turned up with a tipi that he had borrowed from the activity centre he was working at. It was awesome, so much space inside and apparently dead easy to put up. I loved it.

A couple of years later, with our boys judged hardy enough for longer journeys, we found ourselves staying overnight in a family room at a youth hostel near Consett. We hadn’t intended to, but our tent had blown in during an extended period of Co Durham rain, and the hostel owner had taken pity on us and invited us in for the night. We clearly needed something more robust and I wondered if a tent like Chris’s might be the answer. So we stayed in one ourselves while exploring the Bard’s country in October half term. The weather in the midlands was ropey, but we had a wood stove and were lovely and warm and dry all weekend. Brilliant. I was sold.

The next spring, we were out camping again, perched in a near gale on the southern tip of Arran in the Firth of Clyde. This time, in a tipi.

Enjoying a beer on arrival in Kildonan, the first day with our new tent. We pitched the door towards the view, as we always do, which was also the direction of the prevailing wind. When the doors were open, the tent often resembled a parachute.

After a lot of shopping around, we went for the 5m Oxford Bell Tent from Boutique Camping. This was three or four times as much as I’d ever spent on a tent before but as soon as we put it up it was clear it was going to be a good investment. Yep, we stayed warm and dry on that April trip to Scotland, and it’s survived baking heat, Welsh downpours and French thunderstorms with never a doubt that it wouldn’t stand up to it.

They say it takes 15 minutes to put up and this is absolutely true. You peg the groundsheet, put the main pole in, another L-shaped pole does the door, then you peg the guys. Really easy. The construction is robust too. The canopy is made from what is claimed to be a uniquely-designed material which is strong and waterproof, the tent pegs virtually unbendable, and once it’s up you can feel pretty confident it ain’t going anywhere. There are some well thought out features as well – I like the guy ropes which reflect torchlight, the oversized bag that means you never struggle to put it away, the zip that allows you to detach the groundsheet to let the tent air on hot or humid days. A lot of thought has gone into not just the design but all the detail as well.

Size-wise, 5m is massive. We sleep on two double mats and there is plenty of space for all our paraphernalia to be stored safely inside. We even bring the table and chairs into play cards when the boys are sleeping in damp nights. Bear in mind that you need another 50cm minimum (and ideally a metre) around the outside to pitch your guy ropes. We haven’t found this a problem except on one French site where the pitches were too small for our tent, so worth checking before you book.

The boys love it. They’ve been camping since they were tiny but our tipi has brought a new level of excitement for them. People will often stop for a chat and want to ask about the tent, where we got it, how easy it is to put up etc. It definitely stands out a bit.

The only downside is that you really do need to make sure it goes away dry, even for short periods. If it’s not bone dry then you can get black mould spots, despite the makers saying it’s ‘less prone’ to mould and mildew. We put it away with what we thought was an insignificant amount of dew on one panel, and two weeks later we got it out again to find mould was growing and spreading. It’s a big job to clean such a massive tent, so take real care to make sure it’s absolutely dry before you stash it.

Looking good at Gilfach campsite near Llangorse

If you can afford the initial investment then I can’t recommend this enough for family camping. If it’s looked after it will last a decade or more and if you’ve got kids they will absolutely love it. And if you ever drive 400 miles to experience the worst summer storm the north-east can throw at you, at least you’ll stay dry!

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