Cycle Camping by Sarah Jasat
Last year my family dipped our toe into the world of cycle camping. Though intrigued, we had
concerns. What if we were freezing cold? What if we got lost? What do we do for food?
What if we got a puncture?
The Active Travel on Holiday taster in August 2022 went some way to alleviate our fears. Set at
the Leicester Outdoor Pursuits Centre with a dozen seasoned campers and plenty of friendly
faces, it provided a relatively safe environment to see what this camping lark was all about. We
borrowed a tent to sleep and ordered UberEats for the evening meal, and came away having
had a positive experience.
This year we decided we wanted to take the next step. Holidays are getting more and more
expensive, even a week self-catered in the UK is pricey, moreso when you factor in petrol
prices. Then there’s the joys of entertaining small children when stuck in traffic on the motorway.
Cycle camping around Leicestershire, if we could make it work, seemed more and more like a
After months of researching, we purchased a four-man tent, and a better sleeping mat for my
husband, Zubair, who had suffered last year with a very thin one. We also invested in a cooking
set – if we really wanted to get going camping, we couldn’t keep relying on UberEats. While car
camping is an option for us perhaps if we travel further afield, I love the concept of cycling off to
a new destination, so we chose gear that was lightweight and could pack fairly small.
Last year Zubair pulled the baby in a Burley trailer, while I had the five year old on the back of
my bike. This year the baby graduated to the back seat and my now six year old was on her
own bike, complete with side pannier! Along with my sizable front basket, the empty trailer
afforded us a decent amount of storage, and Zubair’s panniers were good for bits and pieces
We rolled up to the town hall on Saturday morning to join the group ride to the Outdoor Pursuits
Centre. There was a good group of about fifteen of us and we cycled at a relaxed, social pace, chatting away and in good spirits. As we neared Morningside Arena, we spied another cycling
group approaching: it was the Ride on Sistas leading a confidence building ride.
Feeling buoyed by the cycling community in Leicester, we carried on across the Abbey Park Road cycle bridge and before we knew it we were winding our way past the River Soar and into the Outdoor Pursuits Centre. I was particularly impressed by 6yo who I had expected to require continuous bribes in the form of sweeties in order to keep pedalling, since she doesn’t usually take on a longer distance than her mile-long commute to school.
There was a warm welcome at the campsite where we met plenty of familiar faces from group
cycling rides and last year’s event. We dumped the bags and joined the group for a ride to the
mammoth in Watermead Park, then back.
While Zubair got to grips with the tent, I refuelled the children and inflated our sleeping mats.
The 6yo was concerned that we needed to pitch in the exact same place as last year. The baby
was delighted at the prospect of a wide open space where she could cause havoc and started
romping around happily. It was a lovely feeling to have our own tent this time, and set it up as
we liked. It was very hot in the sun but I wasn’t sure how we would fare once the temperature
Tired from the bike ride and setting up camp, Zubair had a quick snooze and I settled in for a
chat with the other campers. I calculated that the baby couldn’t get into too much trouble on the
campsite, so sat near the entrance, figuring I would see her if she tried to leave. After about
fifteen minutes one of the other campers walked up to me.
“I’m not sure if you’re aware,” she said, “but I think your baby has taken off her nappy.”
By evening Zubair and I were keen to step up to the challenge of dinner. LOPC feels like it’s
miles away in the countryside but there’s a supermarket right next door. This was handy as wedidn’t have to bring food from home. We picked up a bag of pasta, some sliced mushrooms and a jar of sauce and about half an hour later, dinner was ready! Emboldened by our success we
ate dinner by the campfire and Zubair used a telescopic fork he had bought (one of those ‘add
to your trolley?’ impulse buys that Jeff Bezos is so good at) to toast marshmallows for us.
Before we knew it the sun was going down.
I had a shower and got into my warm nighttime clothes. I was coming to learn that camping can be done differently by everyone. I spoke to a lady who did the NC500, a wild camping challenge in Scotland. It sounded incredible but I don’t think I could camp if I didn’t have access to a hot shower! Some things are non-negotiable.
Similarly, I chatted with organiser Peter Simmonds, about the fairy lights I had brought to put around our tent. As a seasoned distance cyclist, Peter’s focus would be on going as fast as possible and minimising weight to do so, making frivolities like fairy lights quite out of the question.
For us on the other hand, going at the pace of a 6 year old, we could carry far more and bring ‘fun’ items that would make an impression on the kids. One of the seasoned campers confessed to getting very cold at night and therefore having a 4 season sleeping bag.
From what I had read online I had thought ‘4 season” bags were only for going up a mountain, so
it was useful to learn that if you’re a cold sleeper, you might be more comfortable with one.
Hot chocolates before bed in a bid to stay warm and then it was into our sleeping bags.
Last year we camped in August but this year it was still May and the nighttime temperature dropped to a challenging 6 degrees C. I slept in my coat and was fairly comfortable, but Zubair’s 1
season sleeping bag wasn’t sufficient. I also found the baby wasn’t warm enough so ended up
popping her into my sleeping bag which was a squeeze, but very effective at keeping us both
While the night may have been cold, we were treated to a nice warm start as the sun heated up
the tent impressively. We emerged not too worse for wear and had breakfast with the other campers.
Taking advantage of what the LOPC had to offer, Peter had booked a couple of bell
boating sessions on the river Soar. I had forgotten how much the 6 year old enjoyed it the year
before, but once again she was enchanted, staring in open mouthed adoration as the scenery
I rarely venture onto the water but it was tremendously relaxing. We saw a heron, a
moorhen and her chicks, and a pair of swans flying overhead which seemed like it should be
impossible, we all agreed.
Back at camp it was time to pack up and say goodbyes. As last year we were among the last to
leave – putting away a tent and camping gear is difficult when you have four people’s worth of
stuff but only two people working, while one small but powerful person tries their best to
sabotage you. Reflecting on it we decided that for future camping trips it would be better to stay
for at least two nights, to make the time packing and unpacking more worthwhile.
Trailer packed, children ready, and the sun shining, we cycled off. We left more relaxed, with
new knowledge and happy memories, and said our goodbye to the campsite. Until next year…
Favourite Parts From All the Family
Sarah: chatting to all the different campers (until my child took off her own nappy and mooned
Zubair: cooking dinner and sharing it with everyone
Six year old: standing up in the bell boat and cycling myself with my own pannier
One year old: taking off my own nappy and mooning everyone
Top Camping Lessons From All the Family
Sarah: you can camp your way, there are no hard and fast rules
Zubair: the mat is half of the problem, the sleeping bag is the other. If you’re warm, you’ll sleep well. If you take a one-season sleeping bag you will probably be cold.
Six year old: if you ride your own bike to the campsite, you can ride it around the campsite with
your friends too.
One year old: if you cry enough, you’ll be allowed to cuddle and sleep with mummy. Also a little
burrowing will get you into most tents.