By: Blonde Two

The funny thing about bell tents is that they don’t have any bells. They are however quite bell-shaped and very pretty to look at, they also have an interesting history, being used by the military in both World Wars and at the first Scout camp on Brownsea Island in 1907. Today you can buy bell tents in traditional canvas or polycotton fabrics and, if you fancy winter camping, invest in a tent stove and a bell tent inner, but their basic, short sides, single middle pole design remains the same.

My bell-tent-for-the-night was a four-man (or indeed three-woman) one and, as well as the central pole, had an a-frame pole to support the doorway. It was surprisingly easy to put up but I think might have been tricky on my own. After we had inserted a few pegs opposite the door, I crawled underneath the canvas and positioned the main pole. Then a few more pegs and the door a-frame later and we had our home from home. This was a traditional canvas bell tent and I loved the reminiscences it gave me of my childhood days at Guide camp. The smell, the sod cloth, the brailing ties and the action of dragging my bed out on its groundsheet in the morning, all took me back to some very happy and informative times.

I once had to dry a large and very wet marquee by rolling it out over my classroom each night and then back up each morning for nearly a week, so I understand the disadvantages of a wet, canvas tent, but I very much enjoyed the feeling of solidity and tradition that comes from being truly ‘under canvas’ once more. The bigger space took a bit of heating up but I had my bivvy bag and was mostly warm. My level of enjoyment could, of course have been because it wasn’t my tent and the job of drying it wasn’t mine either.


Sod cloth – the strip of fabric attached along the bottom of canvas tent walls. Allow your groundsheet to stick out under it at your peril!

Brailing – the action of rolling up the sides of a canvas tent in order to allow it to air or, on a hot day, give you a lovely shady shelter (a favourite job)