How my family had an unexpected digital detox (last weekend!)

We’re all busy, and if you're anything like me, we only get busier as work and families move up the priority list. Time away often seems more daunting than exciting as you’re thinking about ensuring that the kids will be happy and about all of the things at work and home which won’t be getting done!

My family and I recently had an unexpected (and much needed) digital detox last weekend – and I tell you what, it was seriously refreshing!

Every year we meet up with old university friends from all four corners of the country for a get-together. Over the last (nearly) two decades they have gone from wild parties with hot tubs and an in-house bar (self-created!), to rather more civilised countryside catch-ups! The numbers have grown as every year more kids seem to appear, and with it, different agendas to cater for.

So, this year when someone suggested Glamping, I had visions of a damp wet tent and a rickety old bed frequently occupied by hen parties (not sure if this is actually the case or just me?!).

But I guess if I had really thought about it, Glamping is ‘Glamour’ + ‘Camping’!

Call me old, but I like a comfy bed and I like being able to stand up straight (in dry clothes!). However, I also think of myself as an adventurer and explorer, and really want to be able to have this enthusiasm around my kids (who I really wish I could teleport back 30 years and have them grow up in the '80s and '90s when there were no mobile phones, no internet and only 4 TV channels, one of which stopped at 10pm prompt!). What did I do when I was 9? Climb trees, play conkers, build dens and watch the stars; something which feels a million miles away from today’s young generations.

Digital Detox - the old days

Our Glamping weekend was a good catch-up with friends but it was also something unexpected: a complete digital detox for the kids and for us as adults. Rather than stick the TV on, or have to endure another hour of ‘Tractor Ted’, we all played, laughed, talked and bonded.

There are plenty of these Glamping sites around, our chosen one however was the Black Pig Retreats just outside Shaftesbury in Dorset. We had three ‘tents’ (if I can call them that) between us, sleeping from 4-6. Each came with a better bed than Lenny Henry and his friends at Premier Inn could ever provide, a fully equipped kitchen with gas burner, a log burner in the middle (which also doubled up as our Aga style cooker and hob), and a nice hot shower; one of which was actually in a horse box (something which should have been on George Clarke’s Amazing Spaces).

Digital detox - glamping tents

Each tent was themed: African, Spanish or French. We were in the African one, and it really did feel like we were on safari, especially if you squinted hard enough and pretended that the sparrow in the bush was actually a vulture (or something equally grand!).

Every morning started with us cooking muffins on top of the log burner, our little boy Kobe loved helping and watching (and of course learning). We then sat under the cover watching the rain (and boy did it rain), but it really didn’t matter – if anything, it added to the experience.

Digital detox - the African tent

Once the rain passed, we would walk around the fields and go and collect blackberries. All the kids really couldn’t get enough; it pretty much become ‘Glamping’ attire to have black hands and mouths from eating and squishing too many blackberries.

The open fires acted as a good place for us adults to sit around and have a glass of wine or a beer whilst watching the stars late into the evening (it had stopped raining by this stage!), and as a great venue for toasting marshmallows on the Saturday afternoon with the kids – it is amazing how these simple things still evoke so much excitement!

Digital detox - fun on the farm

On Sunday morning, Carolyn the owner (who was just amazing btw), offered to take all the kids around the farm. They had already sat on the tractor and pretended to drive it, but a full farm tour put their senses into overdrive. Carolyn gave them some freshly picked apples to feed to the big black pig who the farm is named after. Mass hysteria followed as the snorty fella gobbled them all up (aside from the one which Cordelia decided to eat herself!). Horses stroked, hay bales climbed, fish fed… it was now time to get on the back of the buggy and be driven around to look at the sheep and the woods. Needless to say, all the little munchkins loved it!

On Sunday afternoon we headed off five minutes down the road to Shaftesbury to do more digital-detox exploring. This time armed with a Treasure Trail  (busman's holiday anyone?!).

Now I have obviously done a fair few of the Trails, but one of the families who joined us hadn’t. Both parents and the kids all loved searching around for the sneaky clues taking in the wonderful hidden gems which Shaftesbury had to offer; fun just like in the 80’s – piece of paper, a pen and a wonderful sense of adventure was all that was needed. Two hours later, nine big smiles and the mystery solved!

Digital detox -solving a Treasure Trail

We were going to pack up and leave that evening, but (despite the rain having returned), we decided to stay another night at our African-come-Dorset safari adventure. I sat there reading the visitor book and it was only then that I realised we had just had the same experience as everyone else who had come before us: lots of fresh air, lots of imagination and lots of building stronger relationships with our own families. There was no “I’m bored”, no “can I have the iPad” and no cries of “Tractor Ted”. As one visitor in the guest book said “No TV, No Wi-Fi = Bliss”. This goes as much for the adults as it does for the kids though.

Digital detox

I can’t pretend to be a complete purist however; there was of course electricity for the lighting to work, and a plug socket which I confess to using before we left to charge my phone so that I could use the sat nav to find the best way home; not really being bothered about my phone it had gone flat the first day, and stayed that way for the rest of the trip! Next digital detox challenge: learn to map read!

Becky, Aaron, Kobe and the Nottingham University 2003 graduates!

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