Mick Jagger’s Glastonbury Yurt
Tents. They tend to divide those that do or do not. You either embrace the call of nature and revel in a star-studded ceiling and the damp earth beneath you, or opt for hotel check in at 3pm and a chocolate on your pillow at turn down. Well, that’s all in the past.
Enter Mick Jagger. The snapshot of rock royalty standing outside his luxury tipi at the 2013 Glastonbury Festival, summed up what many festival goers, creative weekenders or those partial to wild experiences and creature comforts had come to realise. It really is possible to have your cake and eat it too.
Glamping is wilderness comfortably tamed. Tipis, yurts and bell tents beautifully decked with sheepskins, ensuite bathrooms, elegant lighting, power sockets, accessories, fridges, room service and probably a spa, hair salon and bar to complete the picture. So how did glamping reach Rolling Stones proportions? The boutique camping experience doesn’t have much in common with early man’s attempt at turning a dead mammoth into a hairy shelter.
Yet it wasn’t that much of a leap for our early ancestors to start designing and building simple structures that look almost identical to those that we sleep in today. A more nomadic lifestyle prompted the need for a mobile design that could follow the beast buffet-du jour on their migratory paths. The Yurt or Tipi (depending on which continent you found yourself), were egalitarian simple designs that maximised living space, were easy to erect and properly ventilated for cooking. The steppes of Central Asia and plains of North America were dotted with these harmonious, circular spaces that have changed little in the 2500 or so intervening years.
Since these humble beginnings, tents also started making a name for themselves as the most practical and affordable way to mobilise an army. The leather designs used by the Romans introduced the idea of tent hierarchy: the bigger the centurion, the better the tent; whilst the gentle design of the yurt, with its circular shape reflecting the unity of all things, became the preferred army barracks for the Mongol conqueror, Genghis Khan. Likewise, the Bell Tent, originally used by tribes from the Northern Hemisphere, was being used by the British Army by the 19th Century, and in the US Civil War when Henry Hopkins Sibley patented design based on the single pole tipi.
But, happily, tents were put to more celebratory uses too, in 1520 Henry VIII erected 2,800 tents and marquees nicknamed the ‘Fields of Gold’, and filled fountains with red wine to impress the French King. The Sultan of Ottoman in 1673 travelled with such a large walled tented palace that it was carried on 600 camels; and in 1903 a tented camp built in Delhi to recognise Edward VII as the Emperor of India accommodated 12,983 people in replica lavish mini-kingdoms. Glamping starts to look a little austere in comparison.
When safaris became the outdoor pursuit for the well-heeled, our modern day take on luxury camping starts to take shape. Guests weren’t expected to rough it in the African plains, rather they luxuriated in conquering mother nature by dressing it with butlers, champagne buckets, frothing bubble baths and silver service dinners.
Things might have continued in this vein if it hadn’t been for the advent of nylon, polyester and aluminium. Whether you expressed your appreciation for this lightweight, breathable, waterproof fabric by buying a packable, portable tent and exploring the outer reaches of the Appalachians or claiming your spot next to the acoustic field in Glastonbury, it certainly turned wanderlust into an accessible activity. Luxury was out. Wild pitches, remote adventures and a desire to leave civilisation behind, is turning out to be the 21st-century extravagance.
So how does glamping fit into all of this? Is it compromise or evolution? Well, of course, it depends on your definition of escapism, but perhaps the idea harnesses the beautiful synergy between the simplicity of shelter and the ceremonial joy of celebration. Nature and theatre. The traditional artisan skills of the nomadic tribes distilled to create beautiful structures that make us feel a little closer to our ancestral heritage, our natural roots and our desire to party like a Rolling Stone.