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A family pow wow in a tipi

The adventure starts when we leave the road in Ardfern village to head to the tipis.

Tipis are a great way to camp without putting the tent up yourself - just don't forget to put up the flaps when it comes to lighting the fire
Tipis are a great way to camp without putting the tent up yourself - just don't forget to put up the flaps when it comes to lighting the fire

We can't see a sign to tell us where they are, and the track's a bumpy ride. But you are expected to be able to look after yourself here. One thing is clear, it's not glamping, even though you don't have to put up the tent yourself.

We settled on the Arfern tipis because my brother-in-law had reached a fairly advanced age, had never spent a night under canvas, and had it on his bucket list.

If the brother-in-law - also Richard, let's call him Richard II - was a camping virgin, then I'm a camping strumpet: I've pitched my tent all over Britain, Europe and a couple of other continents too.

But for just two nights away with my teenage son Rob and my sister Lis along as well, putting up a tent seemed a chore, and a ready-made tipi, on a beautiful bit of the mid-Argyll coast, was too much to resist. Richard II's eyes seemed to light up at the prospect of Native American living.

Once on site we see our nearest tipi neighbour is 100 metres away, and the other tipi and the site's yurt are invisible. The view over the hills and to Loch Criagnish is stunning, and outside the tipi is an enormous wooden table and benches, made without glue or nails by a craftsman friend of the owners. Close by is a rough stone barbecue pit and grill.

Next, into the tipi, and when I say wigwam, Richard II corrects me: the cone-shaped canvas mobile homes of the American plains tribes are tipis; wigwams are squat structures.

Getting in the thing is a bit awkward but we marvel at the Tardis effect: it is unexpectedly huge, and our beds are comfortably spaced.

The tipi is well used, with smoke marking the heavy canvas, but with bright rugs and comfortable beds, it has a cosy feel.

In the middle is another rough stone fireplace, with an iron trivet for pots. Lighting a fire inside a tent is a novelty I am excited about (it doesn't take much), and straight away I am ready with matches and sticks.

But to my surprise Richard II knows more about tipis. He gently points out that without opening the smoke-flaps we'll choke to death, so with long wooden poles we push the flaps aside. Above the hole is a canvas hood to stop the rain getting in. Richard II sits comfortably cross-legged, and looks in satisfaction at the rising smoke. "Well, this is jolly good," he declared. "I could get used to this."

I realise after my smoke-flap-faux-pas I have to prove my outdoors credentials, so I pull a leg of lamb out, and announce I will cook it over the open fire outside. Cue amazement, doubt and concern over how long they'll have to wait for dinner.

The trick, of course, is to slice it up into steaks, and within an hour we were enjoying char-grilled juicy lamb, under a clear blue darkening sky. Point proven, I believe...

We awake early next day, and it's bucketing down. It's a canvas tent and it's not leak-proof, but Richard II points to the canvas interior hood which he reckons is for waterproofing in downpours, and with quick adjustment we are dry again.

This time the inside fire is essential if we want breakfast, so flaps are opened and Richard II advises using small sticks, not logs, to produce a quick hot fire, and soon the kettle boils and bacon sizzles. Is he actually Ray Mears in disguise?

Although the wider area has plenty to see, including stunning neolithic sites, we decide to stay on the Ardfern peninsula, so while it rains we take in a fascinating exhibition - local people's art and artefacts skilfully combined with the stories of their provenance - and coffee and scones.

As we eat, the classic West Coast weather miracle unfolds, and half an hour later we're walking out to the tidal island in the beautiful bay by Craignish Castle in warm sunshine. An hour later we're plunging in mirror-calm, frigid seawater off a rocky shore 15 minutes from the road but which feels remote and Hebridean. A cloudless sky, a picnic of local cheese and smoked trout from the village shop, an old-fashioned lugger-rigged boat coasting by: it's what we came for.

That night we eat at the Galley of Lorne Inn in Ardfern village and toast the tipi life. Getting up sharp to get Richard II and Lis to the early Oban train is worth it: at 6.30am the sunlit hills wear tutus of mist. So, on the station platform, how did Richard II know about tipi life?

"Well" - he gives me a confessional look - "when I was a boy and people asked me what I wanted to do when I grew up I always said I wanted to be Red Indian. A bit unrealistic, I know, but when it's your life's ambition at 11 you read a lot of stuff...

"So I'm not sure I'll camp again, but I'm definitely glad I did it in a tipi."

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