We wake up at an ungodly hour. Sunlight warms our tent after a cold night. I step outside. The morning sunlight slants and falls onto lush acres of grass. I sit in my chair, relieved that I have brought my two favourite cushions as I sip my morning coffee. I feel content to be here. I am quiet and still but my mind is not empty. There is so much to take in, so much that we have all traversed in the past few months. 2020 was ‘the stuff of a dystopian sci-fi,’ the year that the entire world stood still and so many lives were lost.

We have a few acres of land to ourselves for the morning. I haven’t had a wash nor looked in the mirror yet, actually I daren’t, as I’m still awaiting my hairdresser’s appointment and dread to think what I look like! We did a good job setting up our camp base yesterday and the tent looks sturdy and is quite spacious. We have a stove, a kitchen unit and a table and at the back of the tent, cosy sleeping quarters.

We haven’t gone far and are staying in a small campsite in Norfolk. Several round apple trees have been planted in a line along the field. They’re quite young but each one will yield an abundant harvest in a month or so. Nearby is a compact greenhouse filled with pots of shiny green tomatoes on the vine that should ripen into juicy red pomodorini soon.

Two other campers are relaxing in the distance. I admire their trendy camper van although it’s not quite as spacious as a family tent. This feels like the perfect getaway for now, in fact, sales of tents have risen by almost 30 per cent. Although camping is not my favourite activity, in these Covid times, I don’t feel too keen on getting on a plane or spending time in a busy resort yet. A more glamorous Mediterranean holiday can maybe wait till next year.

I’m reading Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, Annie Dillard’s American nature writing classic which won the Pulitzer prize back in the mid-1970s. The author’s meditative prose is both engaging and poetic, inspired by classic thinkers such as Galileo and Emerson. Dillard lived in the Blue Ridge Mountains for an entire year and reminds us that we are not separate from the natural world. Dillard confides: “I propose to keep here what Thoreau called ‘a meteorological journal of the mind’.” I read on with a sense of wonderment learning more about nature as it traverses the four seasons.

We visit the ruins of Walsingham Priory, a place of pilgrimage since the 11th Century. Seeing this beautiful structure only reminds me of the hundreds of monasteries Henry VIII destroyed. What an ignoramus to annihilate his own country’s heritage! I can only imagine how grand this Abbey must have been both inside and out, intricately constructed over decades by stonemasons and craftsmen. We go on a woodland walk surrounding the ruins. The ancient trees have formed a canopy and soft green light diffuses through the space. We take our time, meandering under ancient trees towering over us.

The next day we take a day trip to the beach. When we get back, as the other campers are still out and about, I take the opportunity to practice some yoga. I sit cross-legged, cushioned on a thick carpet of grass and take in deep breaths of clean fresh air. Low grey clouds disperse a little to reveal an orange sunset. Before closing my eyes, I spot a bunny hopping out onto the field from under the fence and can hear ducks quacking in the distance.

As I stretch and flex, my muscles slightly ache as they lengthen. I empty my mind as the gentle breeze carries the dusky light across the field. Having acres of space around me feels so restorative. In these moments, I am fully present in the ‘here’ and ‘now’ as I breathe into each asana. On opening my eyes, I look up to see a huge flight of swallows sweeps across the sky in unison. The way the birds glide in one harmonious trajectory reminds me that we are all part of earth’s mysterious pulse.

We try to fly a kite before dinner; we gain some height but ultimately it is too gusty. This evening we’re cooking spaghetti bolognaise as we listen to upbeat music on my daughter’s phone, which she has plugged into her speakers. Our fairy lights sparkle into the blue evening uplifting the camping ambience. We have befriended a young family from a nearby tent and five-year old Victor strolls in and asks if he can use our frisbee. His father yells his name, embarrassed by his son’s audaciousness. He’s a cutie and watches me stirring onions then pouring mincemeat into the pan. My daughter chats with him then hands him the frisbee.

Life is much simpler here and camping undoubtedly brings people together. There is no history of camping in my family, but my husband has been a regular camper since boyhood. He assures me: “All of that physical exercise, exposure to daylight and fresh air (and hopefully sunshine) is hugely beneficial.”

About half an hour after dinner, it’s somebody else’s turn to wash up, so I play badminton. As the evening draws in it gets colder and my husband has the bright idea of steaming a sticky toffee pudding and warming some custard. The perfect comfort food as the evening draws in. It tastes deliciously sweet and we put calories back on that we’ve just lost.

We end the day by 10.30pm tired out by the outdoor lifestyle. We put on some warm socks, sip hot chocolates and watch half a film on our mini DVD player. Just before bedtime, we take a walk to use the facilities. On the way back we spot a million silver stars suspended in a midnight-blue sky. I wish I had a telescope. We linger and take in the luminous pinheads showering the dark mysterious canvas. How minute I feel in this vast universe.

  • Marisa Laycock moved to St Albans in 2000. She enjoys sharing her experiences of living in the city. These columns are also available as podcasts from 92.6FM Radio Verulam at www.radioverulam.com/smallcitylife .