I was poking around the internet in search of some more obscure items on a Guide camp packing list when I stumbled on the question “what actually happens on Guide camp?” It’s something I know very well but parents don’t necessarily and people with no connection to the movement certainly don’t.
This about what we do in our unit. Other units will vary but as I’ve never been away with anyone else, I can’t be too specific. Our camps are a weekend – Friday night to Sunday afternoon but camps can be as short as one night or as long as two weeks.
Guide camp has changed over the last century mostly in equipment, I think. No more heavy canvas bell or ridge tents – we now use the lightweight family-style ones, one per Patrol. The unit provides the tents, you don’t bring your own tent from home. A Patrol on camp is usually different to a Patrol in the unit meeting, partly because not every girl goes on camp, partly because you can’t always have certain girls in the same tent at night if the leaders still want their sanity in the morning and partly just to mix things up. First thing first is to get the tents up. Parents sometimes want to help but we don’t really want them to. The girls tend to be more than happy for someone else to do the work while they sit on the grass and talk, and we work towards our Camper badge, for which – amongst other things – you are required to pitch and strike the tent, which means that if the parents do all the work, the girls can’t get the badge. For girls who’ve done six nights at camp, they do their Camper Advanced badge. Parents, feel free to sit and watch and point and laugh but leave the work to the Guides.
Once the tent is up, they move in. Much mess and shrieking ensues. When everyone’s settled, they’re pulled out for a light supper, cooked by the QM – the Quartermaster, the person in charge of food – and then there’s usually a craft, making a tent mascot.
Our camps have themes. Themes used in the last twenty years have included the Wild West, Arabian Nights, Harry Potter, Olympics, Pirates, Squirrels and Romans. Each Patrol has a name and they make a mascot based on their name. When we did Arabian Nights, each Patrol was named after a different jewel and they made paper lanterns in their colour. For Harry Potter camp, they each made a House shield. Pirates had a pirate flag with their ship’s name on it.
Campfire is usually on Saturday night, so on Friday night we might have a wide game or just gather everyone in the mess tent for another craft or a massive game of Uno, before the QM makes a round of drinks and everyone is sent to bed. No one sleeps on Friday night.
Other things to squish in are that we usually have a flagpole and the flag is ceremoniously raised in the morning – although, to be honest, this tradition has somewhat fallen by the wayside in recent year, and there’s always an inspection. We check the tents for any rubbish, make sure all the pegs are in and all the ropes are done up correctly and give points for how well everything is done.
On Saturday morning, the girls are up fairly early. The leaders, who are already up, sit in their chairs and watch while a couple of girls at a time scurry across the field in their pink pyjamas to the toilet block. When everyone’s finally dressed and brushed, it’s time for duties.
We usually have three Patrols, thus three lot of duties. Cooking, Hygiene and Water, normally, I think. The cooks help the QM with the cooking – a lot of supervision needed because Guides generally don’t seem to have ever been in the kitchen. Water goes and refills our big water containers from the tap at the other end of the field. We have a trolley to help them with this. Hygiene get to clean toilets and empty bin bags and suchlike. Sometimes we also have waitresses who serve the food.
Camp breakfast is usually fried bacon, sausages, eggy bread, beans and cereal, although we’ll sometimes vary it if it suits the theme and we’ll cater for anyone special, obviously. For lunch, it’s usually something fairly simple – soup or wraps or something of that kind. Dinner is usually something filling and easy to mass-cater – pasta bolognese is good but this almost certainly varies with the theme. There are always puddings and there are always elevensies and foursies – each girl brings something cake-like and a selection of these is put out mid-morning and mid-afternoon. We don’t starve!
We have certain mealtime rituals. These days, everyone brings a folding camp chair and we make a horseshoe of them, with the leaders at the head. The middle is the tablecloth and Guides will be admonished for stepping on the tablecloth rather than going round the outside of the circle. This is allegedly because our leaders have been on camp with much stricter people and are preparing us for just such an event. Meals are still announced by “come to the cookhouse” blown on a whistle hanging from the kitchen wall – the windbreaks we put up around the stoves – and being allowed to blow the whistle is a matter of some prestige among the Guides. And although Guides are supposed to be secular, we still sing grace before a meal. Our current favourite is to the tune of the Addams Family. They go up to the serving table one Patrol at a time and there’s always seconds and usually thirds.
Afterwards, the Guides do the washing up. The cooks get to do the cooking equipment and each Patrol washes up for one of the leaders. Sometimes we have real sinks for this; more often they each have a bowl of hot water on a washstand. The draining boards are our trademark. Two long canes, dozens of short canes and a lesson in snake lashing to make the draining board on Friday night – tedious maybe but a good opportunity to sit and chat while also doing something useful – and then that’s lashed to four upright broom handles. A parent many moons ago made us folding stands for the washing up bowl.
During the day we have a lot of activities. Some of our sites have activities on-site, like tunnelling, climbing, abseiling, archery, high ropes, air rifle etc, so we’ll do one or two of those. We’ll probably do another craft or two. There’s always “rest hour” when the Guides are supposed to be in and around their tent, being quiet and calm. I now know this rest hour is actually for the leaders. We might go off-site, depending on what’s nearby – take the train to the seaside, go to an aquarium, have fish and chips on the prom, or go to the nearby holiday camp for a skiing lesson and trip to the pool on one particular camp.
Weather permitting, we usually have a campfire on Saturday night, with songs and toasted marshmallows and sketches – each Patrol makes up and acts out a short scene about something that happened or something that could have happened on camp.
Afterwards, it’s time for hot chocolate and time to go into their tents. At around midnight, the leaders will go round the tents to order the Guides to shut up and go to sleep. It doesn’t always work.
On Sunday morning, the Guides usually cook their own breakfast over Trangias – meths-fuelled stoves which pack up into their own assorted pans. One Trangia per Patrol, or sometimes they use buddy burners, but they have to be made in advance, preferably during meetings the previous term. Buddy burners are tin cans, packed with cardboard and then drenched in wax, with a string for a wick and three or four nails as a pot stand. You can then cook something small and simple like a little tin of beans and sausages on it. But we don’t do it often because they’re a pain to make.
We have more activities on Sunday mornings and then after lunch it’s all hands on deck to strike camp. And that’s what happens on one of our camps!
These photos are all from 2008’s Arabian Nights camp. A handful of those girls went on to become my Rangers. One of them has just finished her second year at university and she’s not the oldest on this camp!