The month of June brought the prospect of waving goodbye to parents for a week and joining my Holy Rood class on the coach to Cuffley for the annual Hertfordshire School Camp. Others have written about the memorable - in one way or another - experience, so here’s my pennyworth.

In many ten or 11-year-old minds, including mine, overarching anticipation and excitement went hand in hand with the prospect of a real-life Enid Blyton Famous Five adventure. As for the actual camp experience, well who could forget it? It was the first tentative step towards finding one’s feet, living with others beyond the family as part of a community, and learning about camping and the various duties that involved, such as collecting and sawing wood, lighting fires and preparing meals.

Mid-June was a peak time at Cuffley Camp on Carbone Hill. The site covered about 90 acres, 33 of which were woodland. There was plenty of green space and birch trees amongst which to get lost, so we adhered to our instructions to an absolute ‘T’.

The bell tents in the main camp were arranged in groups, each forming a village accommodating 24 children and two leaders, separated from the next by light scrub. Set uphill from the dining shelter and camp fire were the villages of Silver Street, Wychwood, Justice Hill, Hill Top and Grimeset, whilst Overbrook, Brackendene and Birchester were on the level to the south and west. I was in the fittingly-named Grimeset but pronounced, we were told, Grimset, which somewhat placated us.

Watford Observer:

Our tent on the right in Grimeset village

According to my camp diary, we arrived on a Saturday at 11am and were shown to our tents. Then we were taken back down the hill, handed a large canvas bag known as a palliasse (a word learnt that day and never forgotten) and told to fill it with straw from a pile on the ground. It was then that the first chords of reality struck!

We struggled to drag the palliasses up the hill; Grimeset being nearly at the top. We lined the palliasses four to a tent then, horror of horrors, we found spiders trooping in and out of the straw. We were given groundsheets and shown how to make our beds, folding the blankets in a prescribed way. The toilet block, wash tent and showers were rudimentary. The latter - which few of us had seen before - sprayed only cold water. No mod cons then. In the afternoon we tidied our kit ready for inspection; our two dishes placed on top - one for dinner; one for porridge or soup.

Watford Observer:

Palliasses filled, Lesley collapsed!

The rising bell was at 7.30am with breakfast an hour later, followed by village duties that included taking turns in disinfecting and scrubbing the village latrine seat, followed by daily inspections. Morning milk was taken in the village before an hour of educational activities, such as making leaf prints, rubbing bark and using a map and compass. Rest periods before and after 1pm ‘dinner’ presumably ensured we quietened down. Further educational activities followed, with tea in between. Supper was at 6.30pm and, after evening round-ups of the days’ activities, cocoa at 8.30pm. At the first bell at 9.15pm, everyone had to be in their palliasses and an enforced silence followed the second bell at 9.30pm. It worked, except one night when a forbidding-looking moon suddenly shone into our tent, scaring all four of us. Our shrieks were heard down the hill.

Watford Observer:

Layout of Hertfordshire School Camp

As the week progressed in glorious weather, we were given an assortment of tasks, including items to find and wild flower and grass stems to collect, which we stuck in our camp diaries. On Monday we walked to Cuffley village shops with our permitted 5/- (25p) pocket money. On Tuesday we played ‘bad eggs’ and cricket. For the latter I was on Mr Hitchin’s side - my favourite teacher - and we won. In the evening I was a meal server and had to clear and scrub our table. On Wednesday we collected grasses and plants. On Thursday each village learnt a different song for the evening camp fire. The welcome mug of hot cocoa and the singsong by the flames was memorable. ‘I hated leaving, but we had to’ was my last diary entry.

Watford Observer:

Camp mealtime, Lesley front left

The invading spiders, the cold showers and the scary new moon were soon forgotten and, in their place, the satisfying glow of an adventurous week of companionship and fun learning, of which Enid Blyton would have approved. But the shock of the palliasses remained and I would never camp again. Only thanks to gentle persuasion three decades ago, my husband Bob encouraged me into caravanning: a spider-free, strawless option that saw us and our family tour the open roads of Europe without a palliasse in sight!

Lesley Dunlop is the daughter of the late Ted Parrish, a well-known local historian and documentary filmmaker. He wrote 96 nostalgic articles for the Evening Post-Echo in 1982-83 which have since been published in Echoes of Old Watford, Bushey & Oxhey, available at and Bushey Museum. Lesley is currently working on ‘Two Lives, Two World Wars’, a companion volume that explores her father’s and grandfather’s lives and war experiences, in which Watford, Bushey and Oxhey’s history will take to the stage once again.