A perfect pitch for campers
Whether it's in a sturdy yurt or under flapping canvas, the great outdoors is cool. Lucy Gillmore celebrates National Camping Week
Wednesday 01 June 2011
What's the attraction?
When you're ankle-deep in mud in a field bickering about who forgot to pack the tent pegs this summer, take heart from a survey that found "people who camp are happier, have closer family relationships, are healthier, less stressed and are more socially connected". (Perhaps unsurprisingly, the survey was commissioned by the Camping and Caravanning Club.) And the Office for National Statistics endorses the claim that Brits have got the camping bug: last year camping overtook B&B holidays in popularity.
To think that it could all be down to an adventurous tailor. After cycling across Ireland with four friends, Thomas Hiram Holding – considered to be the father of modern camping – penned Cycle and Camp in Connemara, which led to the foundation of the Association of Cycle Campers in 1901, the publication of the first Campers Handbook in 1908 and the birth of what was to become the Camping and Caravanning Club.
And if that's not reason enough to celebrate the great outdoors, the annual National Camping and Caravanning Week is under way. The event culminates in the "Big Pitch" camp out on Saturday ( www.nccw.co.uk) – so grab your tent and sleeping bag and head out for a night under the stars.
Camping has always respected the environment, but now it has stepped up a gear with innovations such as solar power, compost loos and discounts for those arriving at campsites by public transport. Guernsey's first such campsite is opening this month. Wild Guernsey is a sustainable land project where you can opt for Barefoot Canvas (a bell tent tucked away in a field) or indulge in Simple Luxury: two tepees with all the trimmings. The Forager is a traditional tepee with sustainably sourced Douglas Fir poles, surrounded by trees with its own foraging area and menu suggestions to cook on your open fire. The Seafarer has views of the wild coastline, a fishing net and a wood-burning stove.
Barefoot Canvas sleeps four and is available from £42 per tent per night. The Forager and The Seafarer sleep four and start at £532 per week (01481 263153; wildguernsey.wordpress.com).
Camping was once the preserve of the anorak brigade. Then Kate Moss put on her wellies and waded into the mud at Glastonbury, and the likes of Cath Kidston, Orla Kiely and Celia Birtwell started designing tents. Thanks to the summer festival scene and emergence of so-called "boutique" events, camping's image has had a revamp. Jonathan Knight, founder of the Cool Camping guides, says: "Five years ago I managed to find just 40 special places around the country for our first guide." Now, Cool Camping: England features 150 of the best campsites and camping experiences across the country (Punk Publishing; £16.95; www.coolcamping.co.uk).
Feather Down Farms (01420 80804; www.featherdown.co.uk) introduced luxury family camping to the UK with swanky safari-style tents on working farms. There are 28 sites across the country, with more opening this year. One recent addition is Pant yr Hwch, outside Lampeter in Wales, close to the Ceredigion Coastal Path and the Cambrian Mountains. The farm was featured on the BBC's Hidden Histories, which showed the restoration of the 18th-century farmhouse and buildings. Guests stay in plush tents with wood-burning stoves, downy duvets and candlelight. Tents sleeping up to six start at £239 for a midweek break in September, but school-holiday prices are much higher; for example, the rate for this week is £505.
Strike out into the glorious heather-sprung unknown and pitch your tent. The "right to roam" and bed down wherever you want is one of the advantages of camping in Scotland – wild camping is legal north of the border, but not in England and Wales. However, with the whole country now one giant campsite, where do you choose: shady glen or deserted beach? In his guide book Scotland the Best (Collins; £14.99) author Pete Irvine lists a few of his favourite spots, such as Glen Etive, a wilderness complete with sea loch and sandy beach. The Outdoor Access Scotland website ( www.outdooraccess-scotland.com) lists all the dos and don'ts.
Canvas with culture
Traditional tepees, safari tents and Mongolian yurts: canvas holidays have gone global. The farmer-owned Farm Stay UK ( www.farmstay.co.uk) has recently added an "alternative and camping" search facility to its website, listing sites that include a camping pod in Cumbria, a yurt in Leicestershire and a wigwam in Yorkshire.
For example, on Westley Farm in the Cotswolds you can stay in four Turkoman-style yurts. Each sits on a wooden platform on the edge of its own secluded glade and comes with a double bed, solar-powered fairy lights, sheepskins and oriental rugs. Prices start at £399 per week for Oak Ridge, Lillyhorn and Mole End yurts; from £690 per week for Sapperton (01285 760262; www.cotswoldyurts.co.uk).
A roof over your head
If canvas feels too flimsy, you could opt for a camping barn or "stone tent". There are 30 camping barns in the YHA network on farms across the country ( www.yha.org.uk). Basically, it's camping without the tent.
In the Lake District, Lakeland Camping Barns sleep between eight and 19 people with maps for walking between the barns (six-10 miles). Prices from £8.50 per person per night (01946 758 198; www.lakelandcampingbarns.co.uk)
What Google will tell you...
"In the 1930s camping was almost snuffed out of existence by a series of government bills designed to restrict its growth. The establishment worried that we might see the countryside overrun with tent-carrying poor." From Campr ( www.campr.co.uk)
What Google won't tell you... until now
Five top tips: 1. Metal water bottles double up nicely as hot-water bottles. 2. You're not allowed to cut down any trees. 3. Pack a bag of dry kindling to make sure your fire does more than smoulder disappointingly. 4. Put the tent up before you open the wine. 5. You can't go camping without baked beans.
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