COTTAGES AND CAMPING OUT

This is supposed to be a "business" country, but one wonders why new wants which accompany any change of daily habit are so slowly realised. Take, for instance, the annual migration to the Thames Valley, which has assumed proportions never reached before. Beyond the enlargement of the riverside inns, little has been done to meet this new taste of English families for rustic life in place of the seaside; and though the thousands of visitors to the "happy valley" of our largest river do contrive to enjoy a maximum of fresh air and outdoor life, this is often accompanied by a needless sacrifice of comfort. If any improvements in the conditions of life by the river can be suggested and put into practice, these will certainly benefit other districts. The profits accruing to intelligent provision for such a demand should also be considerable. But the first condition is that the wants and wishes of those who take their pleasure in this way should be properly understood.

The boating part of the river life is quite well organised; indeed, it would be difficult to improve upon it. Its convenience and elasticity is remarkable. The way in which the leading boatbuilders provide craft of all descriptions, which may be left by their hirers at any point on the river, to be brought back to Oxford or Reading by train, is beyond all praise. It is a triumph of good sense and management. But boating is only part of the amusement of the holiday, just as bathing is at the seaside. The real object with which an ever-growing number of visitors have adopted the river life is in order to spend the utmost length of time out of doors and in beautiful scenery. To this end they need accommodation of a special kind. The large hotel, with its inducements to spend much time over meals and indoors, is wholly out of place for such a purpose. What is needed is a cottage which can be rented either wholly or in part, or actual camp life under tents. The latter is now not confined to boating-men travelling up or down the river. It is enjoyed partly as an annexe to up-river houseboats; more often as "camping out" for its own sake, the tents being pitched near the river, but in complete detachment from any other habitation, fixed or floating. In these tents whole families of the well-to-do classes now elect to live, sometimes for weeks; rising early, bathing in the river, sometimes cooking their own food, or more often employing a servant or local man-of-all-work to do this, taking their meals in the open, and using the tents only to sleep in, or as a shelter from rain. Even little children now share the delights of this al fresco life, which realises their wildest dreams of adventure, and is by general consent as wholesome as it is entrancing. Whether their elders derive as much pleasure as they might from the same environment is doubtful. The business is not properly organised, and only half understood by the greater number of those who are nevertheless so well pleased by the experiment that they are anxious to repeat it. Sporadic camping out involves too much fetching and carrying. Tradesmen do not "call" at isolated tents in a riverside meadow, and all commodities have to be fetched by the campers. On the other hand, sociable camping out, when several groups set up their tents in proximity, needs proper arrangement. Philosophers may see in it the evolution of the social life from its primitive elements, with the growth of division of labour and reciprocal good offices. English families would usually prefer the sporadic tent, if it were not for the hard work involved. But if camping out is to be a real success, such understandings and arrangements must be made. Where this is not done the result is a failure, obvious to the passer-by. Separate and unsightly fires for cooking, and untidiness, because there are no "hours" for performing the light but necessary domestic work, are common objects of individualism on the camping ground. Yachts, which are self-maintaining, never have clothes hanging in the rigging after 8 a.m. when in harbour, and the self-respecting camp must not fall behind this example.

The camp in the country should have its communal kitchen in a wooden movable house, in which meals can be cooked, and from which it should be possible to purchase food as required. Here is an opening for commercial enterprise. The tourist agencies might rent camping grounds and supply tents on hire, with kitchens and all proper necessaries for living under canvas. They do this with great success for travellers in the East, and at a moderate cost. In England tents, if not so luxurious as those provided from Egypt for life in Palestine, are very cheap, and need no transport animals. But such a firm could easily make them removable by arranging for them to be called for and taken up river a few stages, as the boats are. The hire could be fixed at so much per tent, and a camp servant could also be provided. Commissionaires and ex-soldiers with good characters could be found employment in the early autumn, when they now find it difficult to earn a wage. They thoroughly understand not only the management of tents, but the duties of a camp. Rain-proof tents with movable board floors would be provided from London in uncertain weather on the receipt of a wire, for life under canvas is quite pleasant even if the hours are not all serene, if the interior is kept dry.