We have probably all done it at some stage in our lives. Whether it be to save a bit of cash or just the love of the great outdoors, camping is becoming one of the UK’s most popular pastimes, especially with the rise of glamping and a dramatic increase in staycations...
Laurence Reed speaks to Mother Ivey’s Bay Holiday Park owner Patrick Langmaid PICTURES: PAUL WILLIAMS
4th August 2021
We have probably all done it at some stage in our lives. Whether it be to save a bit of cash or just the love of the great outdoors, camping is becoming one of the UK’s most popular pastimes, especially with the rise of glamping and a dramatic increase in staycations thanks to covid-19.
The latest figures show a staggering 16 million Brits regularly enjoy a break under canvas, or in a caravan or motorhome, and with more than 250 campsites in Cornwall, the Duchy certainly deserves its reputation as one of the UK’s most popular places to camp.
I did it many times myself, progressing from tent to trailer-tent, then splashing out on a full-blown caravan. As the weather here can be challenging at the best of times, I’d pack everything: Tshirts, shorts, jeans, woolly jumpers, raincoats. Oh, it was all in there, with the exception of one of the simplest but most important things: a carbon monoxide (CO) detector.
High CO concentrations kill in less than five minutes, and in England and Wales alone there are around 60 deaths a year, with cooking equipment in tents being just one major cause.
Senior fire officers in Cornwall are warning all campers to be armed with this life-saving device. As more and more tourists flock to Cornwall, with many campsites full to capacity, they fear a tragedy is just waiting to happen.
Scott Brown, watch prevention manager for Cornwall Fire and Rescue, told me: “Cornwall is going to be stuffed to the rafters, and we need to get the safety message out about CO safety. Carbon monoxide is a silent killer a colourless, odourless, tasteless and invisible gas. “
“People love to barbecue down here, especially with the weather we have been having, and they often choose to take them into their tents. They just don’t recognise the risks.” Scott is not only concerned about tents. We would strongly recommend a CO detector in mobile homes, static caravans and camper vans. Even in a tent, he said you could Velcro a detector in place.”
Perched high above the rugged North Cornwall coast near Padstow is Mother Ivey’s Bay Holiday Park, set in 35 acres of beautiful and dramatic countryside, and with its own private beach. Site owner Patrick Langmaid has been at the helm of the family-run business for decades.
Pre-covid, he would expect 3,000 guests a week, that number has been halved, and despite restrictions being lifted, he intends to keep campers apart by deliberately not opening a ten-acre field, effectively reducing capacity by 800 visitors a week.
He knows all too well about CO poisoning. He told me: “It’s lethal. Picture the scene: you’ve had your barbecue, it’s late, it’s getting chilly, so you think, ‘We’ll just take it in with us to stay warm as we’re going to sleep.’ You zip up your tent they are all nicely sealed these days. You go to sleep, the oxygen levels are reduced and the combustion of the barbecue as it’s cooling down will start producing carbon monoxide.”
“You start absorbing it without knowing, and I’m afraid for some people that ends in tragedy.” He told me about one incident that still haunts him today. He even remembers the very date: July 26, 2011. “Dave Smith was here from Solihull with his two young children. He took his barbecue in, unaware of the risks. Luckily for him, his son woke up, violently ill; he managed to get out of the tent to raise the alarm with another camper.
“They then realised there was a massive problem, as Dave and his daughter were just lying unconscious in their beds. Luckily, we had a first responder here almost immediately; he himself got ill and had to go to Treliske, along with the entire family. I am glad to say it was a happy ending they all recovered but it could have been a tragedy.”
Mr Langmaid is a member of the British Holiday and Home Parks Association, which has produced an A5 flyer warning of the dangers of CO gas. I tracked down Dave, who admits he is lucky to be alive. He’s now 53, while his children, Arron and Elise, are 22 and 24.
“We had a Pod tent: three pods that zip around a central entertaining area,” he recalls. “We’d been sea kayaking, and my wallet had got drenched. While the children were sleeping in their pods, I picked up the barbecue, which was cold enough to touch, and took it into the tent’s central area to dry out my money.”
“The last thing I can remember is lying down next to the barbecue.” He was told in the morning, his daughter Elise was being sick and crying in her pod, while his disorientated son, Arron managed to raise the alarm.
The family spent several days in hospital, and it took Dave several weeks to make a full recovery. “To be honest, I was out of the game and it was a couple of weeks before I could think straight. Apparently CO attaches itself to your blood cells, so you have to wait until your whole system is flushed out.”
His warning to other campers: “Burning anything has a consequence, so always be aware.” Dave has not been camping since, even though the campsite has offered him a complimentary visit.
Let’s hear from some of his guests. At 69, Janet Andrews, from Exmouth, has been coming to the North Cornwall holiday park since she was just four years old. Spying on her modest two-man tent, I could not spot a CO detector.
She said: “I have them at home, but it didn’t occur to me to bring one I don’t think I have any appliances that would necessitate it. I have a gas stove but that’s outside no way would I put it in the tent.”
Another happy camper was Jim Willis from Bristol, down in Cornwall with his family in a camper van. He told me that he had a smoke alarm fitted but did not know about a CO detector. I’ve borrowed the van and haven’t checked. I’ve got one in the kitchen at home, as I’ve a boiler and a gas cooker, so I’m kind of aware of it.”
Fire prevention officers also point out the striking similarities between CO poisoning and covid symptoms. “CO poisoning is very similar to food poisoning or a viral infection: headaches, dizziness, breathlessness, feeling sick, a nauseous feeling, tired or confused,” says Scott.
“It’s a silent killer. You will not see it, and the sad thing is that people come down on holiday, relaxing, having a couple of drinks, and perhaps take their eye off the ball. It’s imperative to keep your wits about you. Do not be tempted to take any barbecue into your tent or caravan. Extinguish it properly with sand or water and leave it outside your sleeping environment.”
If you have a camping related story, or any topics you would like me to raise, get in touch by email at Laurence .firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @laurencereed