Family campsites: Tent poles at the ready for a wild adventure
Jonathan Knight, founder of Cool Camping guides and co-author of the new edition of Cool Camping Kids, selects his top family campsites
In a world of iPhones, computer games and relentless reruns of Peppa Pig, enjoying the great outdoors has almost become a forgotten art for today's kids. A recent National Trust survey found that fewer than 10 per cent of children play out in the wild compared with almost half of us a generation ago, and that a third have never climbed a tree. This is a poor reflection on our cotton-wool-encased culture, where we have become so overprotective that our children are no longer exposed to the rough and tumble of the real outdoors. Children should be encouraged to get outside and get stuck in; otherwise we risk unlearning all those essential skills handed down through the generations. Skills such as catching fish, hunting for insects and rolling down a big hill until you get dizzy.
Of course, we parents often don't feel comfortable allowing our precious darlings to go off exploring in the way that many of us did in our own childhood. That's why camping is so perfect for young families. Camping provides the freedom children need to run around, build dens, see some wildlife and get ridiculously grubby.
Best for animal magic: Cotswold Farm Park
Bemborough Farm, Guiting Power, Gloucestershire GL54 5UG (01451 850307; cotswoldfarmpark.co.uk). £13-£19 per night for a tent pitch.
Being able to pitch a tent in the Cotswolds is an extremely rare occurrence, given its lack of decent sites, so it's somewhat apt that you can here – at a rare breeds farm. It's is a huge hit with families, as you're next to the popular Cotswold Farm Park (Adam's Farm from the BBC's Countryfile). You're surrounded by the sights, snorts and smells of all creatures great and small, from Highland cattle and Gloucester Old Spot pigs to chickens and donkeys. Campers can take advantage of a one-off entrance fee for unlimited visits to the farm park. Kids love the adventure playground and the Touch Barn, where you can pet newborn chicks, rabbits and ducklings. And as you're camping in a flat field on top of a Cotswold ridge, there are stunning vistas in every direction.
Best for star-gazing: Balloch O'Dee Campsite and Trekking Centre
Kirkcowan, Newton Stewart, Dumfries & Galloway DG8 0ET (01671 830708; ballochodee.com). Nightly flat rate £6 for tents, £10 for motorhomes/caravans.
Balloch O'Dee's farm campsite is located in one of the Lowlands' most stunning areas – right on the edge of the fir-cloaked Galloway Forest Park, with its clear night skies. (It's the only European designated Dark Skies forest.)
Communal campfires accompanied by evening sing-songs are commonplace, while in the morning campers are woken by the dawn chorus and get to throw open their tent doors to the sight of Culvennan Fell.
By day, kids can watch the rare birds soaring overhead and wild deer slinking through the trees. By night, they can keep watch for shooting stars.
Best for rope swings: Wowo
Sheffield Park, East Sussex TN22 3QT (01825 723414; www.wowo.co.uk). Adults £10 per night; children £5, under-fours free. Yurts £112–£250 per two-night stay.
Wowo is a rare and beautiful thing – a fantastic campsite within two hours' drive of London. It's also the least ruled and regulated site you could possibly find, virtually untouched by nanny state-ism. Campfires are allowed, and children's entertainment is strictly of the old-school variety: climbing trees, swinging on tyres, rolling around in ditches, making camps in the undergrowth. In fact, the entire 150-acre site is a huge, natural adventure playground. There's usually some communal fun going on during summer weekend evenings too: soup suppers, pizza making, plenty of mingling, and perhaps even a little singing around the campfire. Leave the rules at home and let the kids roam free.
Best for building dens: Comrie Croft
Braincroft, Crieff, Perthshire PH7 4JZ (01764 670140; comriecroft.com). Adults £7-£9 per night; children half price, under-fives free.
Comrie Croft is run by a group of outdoorsy locals who wanted to make the most of the croft's farmland. The result: a naturally beautiful and friendly campsite that allows tenters to get as close to a wild camping experience as possible. There are three camping areas to choose from – a spacious field next to the reception that's ideal for larger tents; a birch glade offering the thrill of true woodland camping; and an elevated meadow, with spectacular views across the Perthshire countryside. The woodland provides a natural playground, making it great for exploring and den-making, but other popular activities at the croft include nature trails, bike rides, fishing and fruit picking. So it's a great place to tick off quite a few of those outdoors activities that every kid should do.
Best for tree climbing: Tree house
Bryn Meurig Farm, Cemmaes, Powys SY20 9PZ (01654 703700; living-room.co). Family of four for two nights costs from £349.
From the moment you arrive in the farmyard, which is nestled halfway up a valley on the edge of Snowdonia National Park, you know you're on to a winner. The air is fresh, the meadows lush and the views are to die for. The site is over 300 acres, so you're unlikely to hear or see any of your fellow "tree housers" from your spot. You will be thrilled when you first encounter your tree house: clambering up its handmade wooden spiral staircase, supported by a twisted willow balustrade. The pod-like creation is a beauty unto itself, with trees growing through, and supporting, its structure – all modern on the inside and with a living roof outside. There's no electricity on site, but kids will love dozing off to candlelight in their cosy wooden bunks.
Best for campfires: Caffyns Farm
Lynton, Devon EX35 6JW (01598 753967; doonevalleyholidays.co.uk). £5 per adult; £3.50 per child, under-5s free.
Owners Colin and Jill have set up a relaxed, rule-free, pitch-wherever-you-fancy site along the stunning North Devon coast. A campfire culture is encouraged and made even more magical by the surroundings, with expansive countryside all around and views out over the Bristol Channel. Campers are free to wander the 150 acres of farmland, which is some of the flattest in this otherwise undulating area of Exmoor – all the better for pitching. The location is beautiful and the laid-back vibe ensures friendly, relaxed campers. It's an irresistible spot for kids who are hooked on riding and beach days, too, with pony trekking right from the farm's own stables, and walks down to the stunning beach at Lee Bay for days spent bodyboarding, sandcastle-building, and rockpooling.
Best for foraging: Nethergong Nurseries
Nethergong Hill, Upstreet, Canterbury, Kent CT3 4DN (01227 860268; nethergongnurseries.co.uk). £15 per tent per night.
Nethergong Nurseries is the perfect kids' playground: full of secret paths that promise adventure, and nooks and crannies in which to hide. The first of three camping areas is a shady area with English broadleaf trees planted neatly in rows. Pick through some dense woods and thickets and you'll come to an open field for eight tents, with two extra pitches by Pimlico Pond in the far corner. Beyond that is the area known as Puddle Dock, where semi-private pitches cut into the field's shrubby borders. The ridge that marks the site's northern border is the elevated riverbank path running alongside the Little Stour river, a fantastic overgrown throughway for kids to explore and find plums and damsons to pick off the trees.
Best for fishing: Swiss Farm Touring & Camping
Marlow Road, Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire RG9 2HY (01491 573419; swissfarmcamping.co.uk). Family of four £15-£22.
At first glance, Swiss Farm might seem a little on the commercial side, but first impressions can be deceptive. Once you've spied the spacious fields and adventure playground, the outdoor swimming pool and the still waters of the willow-fringed fishing lake, any reservations will soon evaporate. Just outside the quintessentially English town of Henley-on- Thames, Swiss Farm is a popular and accessible campsite, which makes a great option during the festivities of the summer's Royal Regatta. At quieter times of the year, Swiss Farm is simply a great place to come to relax by the lake, a base from which to explore Oxfordshire's countryside, hills and interesting towns. And in the evenings, it's a place to enjoy family barbecues in the dusky evening glow.
Best for wild swimming: Tresseck
Hoarwithy, Herefordshire HR2 6QJ (01432 840235; tresseckcampsite.co.uk). Adults £5.50 per night; children £2.
This site is adored by plenty of campers who come back again and again for the "no delusions of grandeur" vibe. It's a field by some water – that's pretty much it! But what water. Whether you're messing about in boats, splashing, paddling or just admiring this great expanse of river (and the array of wildlife and floating or capsizing vessels on it), the River Wye will quickly have you hooked. With a family-friendly pub by the gate and the opportunity to make a campfire, what's not to like? Whatever time you choose to climb into your sleeping bag, you can be assured that you'll fall asleep to the crackle of open fires and the swishing of water in the reeds.
Best for building sandcastles: Porth Joke Campsite
Treago Mill, Crantock, Newquay, Cornwall TR8 5QS (01637 830213; treagomill.co.uk). Adults £7.50-9.50 per night; children £4.50.
Lucky campers who've stayed at Porth Joke know that this is seaside camping at its finest. Not only is surf city Newquay just four miles away, but you've also got Porth Joke Beach – which offers privacy and enviable beauty – on your doorstep. The site itself is very basic but comes with good facilities. The jewel in its crown, and the single onsite source of entertainment, is a giant sandpit which campers are requested to replenish with the sand from Porth Joke Beach. If you do want to venture out of the site's seductive environs, then within a few miles of the site you'll encounter the beauty of Holywell Bay, the endless sands and roaring surf of Perranporth, and the equally sublime Crantock Beach.
'Cool Camping Kids' (second edition) is out now, available from coolcamping.co.uk and at bookstores (£16.95)
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