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A story about what you yearn for

What is camping really about? Are the stories about matching tracksuits true or just a mischievous urban myth?  Camping means no doubt different things to different people, and to different kinds of camper. For me camping is about getting away from it all, fellowship and relaxation! And I imagine that’s the same for all campers, in one way or another. A way of breaking out of the daily routine, of being yourself. Maybe that sounds pretentious and pompous. For the uninitiated, even quite absurd. How can freedom be squashing yourself into eight to ten square metres, or sleeping in a tent, with a 2cm thick bedroll and a sleeping bag the only things between you and bare earth?

Back then, when it all started, it was perhaps easier to understand the need to get away. Away from all the must do’s, the daily stress, the grinding routines. But why leave home comforts and the 60 inch TV now? For exactly the same reasons, I think. To get away from the musts and shoulds of life for a short while, and just be. And if that is the heart and soul of camping, if it has those, I don’t think that’s ever changed. Ever since campsites first began to appear, sometime around the start of the last century….

Before the early twentieth century it was only the very wealthiest who could be said to have any kind of free time at all. Industrialism came with working days of anything between twelve and sixteen hours long, six days a week. But gradually more and more people began to work shorter days on Saturdays, giving urban dwellers the opportunity to go away. Places that they chose to travel to by bike, train and later car, to walk, swim and relax, were often idyllic locations by the sea or lakes. And that’s why so many of Sweden’s campsites are set in glorious natural surroundings. Someone started it all off, no one knows who, but with time increasing numbers took a tent with them to stay overnight in, but also to shelter from bad weather or too much sun…

The campsite on the beach at Åsa was established on a more formal basis in 1934. But by then Åsa had already been a swimming and camping location for many years. Because nearly all the early campsites started spontaneously like that it’s hard to say which is the oldest in the country. But it’s highly likely that Åsa Camping & Havsbad is one of them.

Time went on. As getting a car became more possible, and when a new law gave everyone the right to have three weeks holiday in 1938, camping really took off. Ten years later Sörby Mekaniska Verkstad in Örebro make the first Swedish caravan. And the rest is history….

Increasing numbers continue to discover the freedom in camping. Nowadays there are campers in every socioeconomic group, from every part of the country and abroad, and of all ages. There are campsites by the sea, in the middle of the forest and on the fells. There are some with only twenty places and others with more than a thousand. There are campers who would never set foot on a minigolf course and those who see it as an essential requirement. It’s hard to say exactly how many people go camping each year. Some people have estimated that at least a million Swedes camp – that figure is likely to be higher. If there’s anything in common with them all it could be that most seem to be outgoing, sociable people, who like meeting others and don’t tend to be shy….

And even back then in the early days of camping, many headed to the same spot. Eskil, who on Midsummer Eve 1929 sent to his friend Josef in Gothenburg one of the postcards the pictures on this page come from, wrote that at Åsa “there are around 50 tents in a cluster”.

Despite there being an almost infinite amount of space people still chose to be near each other. A lovely image of how we folk, despite it sometimes appearing otherwise in the hurly burly of daily life, still wish others well and like being together.

Camping still offers unique opportunities to make new friends, in a way that seldom occurs in real life, where most of us just hang out with our peer group. You know, doctors socialise with other medical professionals, islanders with other islanders, pensioners with other pensioners and so on. It’s not like that on a campsite, where the finance director’s pitch is next to a pre-school teacher’s who has invited his opposite neighbour the lawyer over for drinks, who in her turn brings along the former taxi driver and his family…..

It seems pretty clear that those who first came to Åsa and started a campsite here did it because it’s in such a lovely natural setting by the sea, and to be able to socialise freely and enjoy the peace and quiet. And even if Åsa today is a modern site with everything you’d expect, we’re proud of our history and try to work in the same spirit that attracted Emil and others to find their way here.

Tracksuits then. Yes of course they’re a thing. Just like jeans, suits and everything in between – because you can be how you like on a campsite. And maybe that’s camping in a nutshell – the freedom to make your own choices, to be yourself, when you want. Åsa is our paradise by the sea. I hope it’ll become yours too!

/ / Peter

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