From the very first day I took up my desk as Club Reporter on Camping & Caravanning magazine, I have heard a great deal about the National Feast of Lanterns (NFOL). The Club’s annual national rally is one of the biggest of its kind in the country and attracts members from across the land as they gather together and celebrate great traditions and their collective love of all things camping. It’s the highlight of the year for a great swathe of campers, and as soon as I reached the site at the All England Jumping Course in Hickstead, West Sussex, I began to get an idea why it’s so popular.
After being swiftly guided to my pitch by a raft of helpful volunteers from the working party of District Association (DA) members from all over the country, I headed into the hustle and bustle of the event with camera and notebook in tow. The vibe was positive, entertainment was plentiful and old friends were reuniting everywhere you looked. I spoke to a wide range of people as I wandered around, from as nearby as West Sussex itself to as far away as Loch Lomond in Scotland, and nearly everyone had a smile on their face and enjoyed being part of NFOL. It probably helped that, in bucking the trend for a normal British bank holiday weekend, we were blessed with four days of glorious sunshine and lovely warm temperatures.
The two key events of NFOL are the Mardi Gras Parade and the Lighting Up. The former saw members dressing up in an inexhaustible number of creative ways around the theme ‘A day at the races’. It wasn’t just horse racing that was covered by the costumes, but also cars, ostriches and even abstract concepts like ‘race against time’ and the ‘human race’. The parade congregated at the centre of the rally, where prizes were dished out by Club Chairman Mel Hill, to the best dressed-up.
As the sun set on the Saturday evening of NFOL, the caravans, motorhomes and tents began to shine as members took part in the Lighting Up – the tradition that gives the event its name. Some DAs (I’m looking at you, Solent) took this very seriously and reached near military levels of organisation and work-rate to create their designs for illuminating their units. I have to say, I was thoroughly impressed with it all and walking around the twinkling light show on a balmy summer’s evening with merry campers was a fitting way to end a long, hot day.
All in all, I was impressed with NFOL. A huge amount of organisation goes into making it happen and it’s enjoyed by a diverse attendance of young and old, first-timers and veterans and everyone in between.
You can read my full report of the event in the November issue of Camping & Caravanning and keep a lookout for plenty of extra online content too.