My favourite place without doubt is our safari tent. It is nestled into the landscape with its back amongst the chestnut trees, its frontage facing the open valley, surrounded by a millefeuille of hills falling off into the distance. The ridges are perfectly framed by three large windows that run along the length, the bed strategically placed to view the view. On moonlit nights these become a monochrome triptych filled with quicksilver, the hills dark and curvaceous, filigree leaves casting lacy shadows. Not only graced with an outlook from every window there is also the luxury of running water which allows us to bathe in the old, reclaimed bathtub. I wait until the light drops and the ‘bathroom’ is filled with the remnants of golden sun rays amongst the long soft shadows. After long hot, sticky days these are moments to be savoured.
Safari is a state of mind, no need for planes, trains and automobiles, endless queues and mask wearing, not when we are lucky enough to live where we do. This summer more than any other I am excited to pack my bag and move to our canvas abode. One small bag is all I need, it's a pleasure to be in a space not filled with my usual clap trap that I seem to too easily acquire in my daily life. Walking along the overgrown path from the house to the tent which is no more than fifty metres, I feel lighter and excited, a frisson of anticipation in being welcomed by an old friend. We have everything we need and more - a comfy bed, enough electricity to give us light for reading and charging our devices. There is a fully functional bathroom, a desk outside for writing - where I am now - and chairs on the terrace for lounging equipped with cushions and blankets. I am the first to admit this is no ordinary camping!
When I lived in Kenya, much of my time was spent under canvas. Running safari camps I lived for long stretches in a tent whether it was on the banks of Lake Victoria, in a glade of yellow fever trees in Amboseli or out on the Savannah on the Mara/Serengeti border. It’s a practical way to be, pared back living but it’s also the sense of immediacy of the surrounding environment which is a joy, especially at night. In Kenya of course the night noises are prolific and distinctive - whoops and barks, sawing (leopards!) and roaring. A wonderful symphony of sounds. But even here in the Cévennes, I often wake to hear wild boar snuffling and grunting, owls hooting, nightjars churring. Sometimes a screech jolts me awake and I lie trying to identify the noise. Genet cat? Fox? Rabbit? Deer? These are some of our local inhabitants, it’s easy to imagine the drama being played out under the cover of darkness.
Since leaving Kenya it had been a dream to have our own safari tent. When we bought our house it needed a complete renovation, so the idea of having a tent where we could spend summer nights, seemed a perfect solution. At that time there were no companies making them in Europe so we eventually found a manufacturer in South Africa that was happy to ship to us. Naturally this was not as easy as it sounds; there was endless form filling, interminable long dealings with evasive shipping companies, unforeseen duties to be paid, but eventually in spite of it all, she arrived! The platform, which was the floor of the tent, was ready and waiting made to the specifications of the tent company. There were a few tense moments and a couple of phone calls back to the company in South Africa when it looked like she wasn’t going to fit but then she was all of a sudden up and we felt we had arrived home.
That first summer I have happy memories of summer nights spent under canvas with the girls aged 2 and 4yrs and our two dogs. Cooking over the campfire, then putting the girls to sleep, Dan and I would share a whiskey and listen to them giggling, torches flashing, whilst we sat under impossibly starry skies, pinching ourselves to make sure it was real. During the day looking out across the hills I expected to see the large grey backs of grazing elephants or at the very least a dik dik underneath the bushes. But instead we watched more butterflies than I could count and started to plan out our garden and home, absorbing the special magic and quiet of the place.
The tent has now been with us for twelve years and has had it's fair share of trials and tribulations. There was a narrow escape in the winter of the 2018, when disaster struck in the form of heavy snow. It was February, we had been away and came home to find our sweet tent crumpled and broken. I cried. At that time I thought it looked impossible to resurrect. We looked for alternatives - another tent, a cabin maybe. But our hearts were not in it, it would never be the same. So we had another look to see if somehow we could mend her. We found a local carpenter who agreed to come and have a look at replacing the broken metal structure with a wooden one. I was worried it would look clumsy and heavy, but how wrong I was! It wasn't a straight forward project, but the carpenter persevered, if it wasn’t working he found another way. A true artisan! The tent itself needed some TLC, and we set about patching, riveting and cleaning her. Some of the furniture had smashed when she came down so we reinvented what was left and found some new additions at the local puce market. Some months later she was resurrected with the most elegant wooden arches that provided a solid and sturdy framework. She had never looked more beautiful.
Nowadays she looks every inch of her twelve years with some battle scars to show. Unsurprisingly, as it is no mean feat to survive the yearly infamous ‘Cévenol Episodes’ as well as severe windstorms and searing sun which has slowly bleached the olive green canvas to a washed out khaki. Last year we had a lightening strike, which meant we spent most of the summer without electrics, however I was more than grateful the tent didn’t go up in smoke after the electrics caught fire and were blasted to smithereens. She may be world weary but she’s still up and running and I intend to make the most of summer nights lulled to sleep by the cicadas, enjoy the drafts of cooler night air and take delight in waking to the sound of the dawn chorus, which I couldn’t get closer to if I tried.