Trail of the unexpected: Unique Devon campsite offers seclusion and home comforts

Just don't call it glamping. "I don't really like the word," says Matt Bate, as he contentedly surveys his handcrafted glade: a treehouse here, a see-saw there, a hammock hoisted a safe distance from a swing. "This is all a bit more Heath Robinson."

We're standing in a lush eight-acre wood surrounded by a blanket of green fields, near the point where the M5 finally gives up and dissolves into A-roads. A few miles away the River Exe marks the beginning of the end of its grumbling journey to the south Devon coast in a huge, muddy V. The wilds of Dartmoor are over to the west. Nearby is the pretty coastal hub of Topsham, complete with antique shops, RSPB nature reserves and small, pottering boats.

But we, as I say, are in a wood. And my family and I are being introduced to what Matt calls "The Wood Life". Jokey name apart, it's an entirely appropriate description. "You can live here without fossil fuels and mains power," says Matt. "It's simple but effective." Not too simple, I hope. "No, it's comfortable camping. When people come here, we want them to say: 'You've thought of everything.'"

Conveniently, Matt is a tree surgeon by profession. He and his wife Amanda came up with the idea after doing a spot of "comfortable camping" themselves at the Jollydays site (how do they come up with these names?) in North Yorkshire. Matt's family owns much of the land around here, renting it to tenant farmers. "But," he says, "we always thought we could do something with this wood."

And what Matt and Amanda did is – from my family's perspective at least – create something very close to the perfect camping holiday. For the next few days, this will be our very own glade, in our very own wood, with our very own blackberries to pick. There are squirrels and birds (mostly pheasants) to spot; there's bracken to tramp around in; chestnut, beech and oak trees to provide verdant cover; and rhododendron bushes in which to create child-friendly dens.

In the evening we'll toast marshmallows (pre-supplied by Matt and Amanda) on our very own campfire and then we'll go to sleep in our very own, single, solitary tent: the only one in the wood. "We're offering something that a lot of people don't have access to," says Matt. "A private little enclave among the trees."

The tent is where the comfortable part of the camping really manifests itself. A large safari-style canvas stretched over a wooden base, it has a cute little front porch with a hand-tooled fence (Matt knows a terrific amount about chopping and chipping away at trees). At the back are two rooms separated by a strip of canvas, with a pair of single iron bedsteads in one and a double bed in the other, all clad in crisp, white cotton. In the main room, there's a wood-burning stove, a tiny kitchen with a pair of gas burners, a sofa bed and a solid-looking table and chairs.

There's even a plug socket, powered by a solar-charged battery rather than the mains. Matt suggests that I could charge my mobile phone or laptop from it. Given the tranquillity of the setting, I resolved to operate without both, but a bit of electricity does come in handy later when we have temporary need of more light than the on-site paraffin lanterns can supply.

Everything, as you might imagine, is properly rustic-chic. But most impressive of all is that the little details have obviously been fretted about and worked on: Amanda and Matt can arrange for a welcome pack of food sourced from the local farm shop (the Taverner's in nearby Kennford, which we later discover also offers tasty bakery bargains at the end of the day); there's a plentiful supply of family-friendly board games on offer should the weather prove inclement; there's even a treasure hunt for the children to follow as they explore the limits of the (safely fenced-in) wood itself.

And what about the, er, toilet facilities? I remember a time when one's urgent wild-camping needs involved being given a trowel and some loo-roll by your parents and being told to dig a small hole a decent distance from the tent. Happily, this being The Wood Life, it's not a conversation I need to have with my own children. Not only is there a (pleasantly) fragrant compost toilet in its own little wooden chalet, but there's a wood-fired shower, too. One of the treats of getting up each morning involves laying a small fire in the burner and waiting for enough water to heat up for a proper soaking.

Despite all these indulgences there is, as Matt suggests, nothing particularly glamorous about camping. The reason people love sleeping under canvas so much is that it connects us with the outside world, it serves the primal need of mankind (and particularly men) to light fires and chop logs; and it allows children to build teepees out of random bits of foliage. However, the fact that The Wood Life offers you the chance to do all these things without also having to pitch a tent in a rainstorm or survive on tins of haphazardly warmed baked beans can surely only be a good thing.

On our last evening I was quietly contemplating the benefits of freshly chilled white wine from the gas-powered fridge when my elder son looked up at a silent night sky freckled by the Milky Way. "Look, Dad, there's a star!" he said, entranced. As I congratulated myself on bringing my children to a place where they could commune so splendidly with nature, he then continued: "Or actually, it might be a helicopter." Clearly, you can take the boy out of London...

The Wood Life (01392 832509; thewoodlife.org), near Kenn, Exeter, is open until 15 October and has some availability until then. Four nights (Monday to Friday) or three nights (Friday to Monday) cost £300; a week is £600. The 2011 season starts on 1 April. The tent sleeps six if using the sofa bed. For more information, see canopyandstars.co.uk

Star qualities: Three more rural escapes

The Wood Life is one of the accommodation options offered by Sawday's Canopy & Stars (canopyandstars. co.uk), a collection of "quirky and beautiful places of a camping kind" which launched this summer. Other possibilities – open throughout the winter – include:

Yarlington Yurt, Somerset

The main yurt at Yarlington contains a double bed, plus colonial-style furnishings and a wood-burning stove. There's also a connected yurt with two single beds and a separate kitchen and bathroom tent. Mains electricity and hot running water keep things civilised. Sleeps four.

Nant yr Onnen, Dyfed

There are 2.5 acres of garden, streams and woodland to explore from this octagonal cabin set in the Cambrian Mountains National Park. There's a double bed and a single sofa bed, plus a shower, kitchen area and woodburner to keep things cosy.

Roulotte Retreat, Melrose

Set in a three-acre meadow in the Scottish Borders, there are two colourful French caravans to choose from here, with sumptuous furnishings. Each sleeps two. There's also a gypsy caravan plus cottage available (sleeping a total of four).

PROMOTED VIDEO
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Car Sales Executive - Franchised Main Dealer

    £30000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity for...

    Recruitment Genius: Group Sales Manager - Field Based

    £21000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Located on the stunning Sandban...

    Guru Careers: Email Marketing Specialist

    £26 - 35k (DOE): Guru Careers: An Email Marketing Specialist is needed to join...

    Recruitment Genius: Tour Drivers - UK & European

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity to join a is a...

    Day In a Page

    As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

    As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

    Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
    Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

    The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

    Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
    Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
    Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

    Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

    A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
    How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

    How books can defeat Isis

    Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
    Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

    Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

    She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
    The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

    The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

    The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
    French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

    French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

    Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
    Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

    Young carers to make dance debut

    What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
    Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

    Design Council's 70th anniversary

    Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
    Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

    Dame Harriet Walter interview

    The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
    Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

    Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

    Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

    Bill Granger's winter salads

    Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
    England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

    George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

    No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
    Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links