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Britain's perfect pitches
Adventure, romance, showers, zero guilt; a night under canvas has it all, says the editor of the Cool Camping guides
Travel British Isles
Camping is the original “green” holiday. Its very appeal lies in its contrast with our modern lives, in the chance to lose electricity, the traffic, the television and telephone for a while.
Chilling in the countryside, sleeping under the stars and breathing clean, fresh air, is a rich and recharging experience – but it’s also the ultimate low-impact break, on which your biggest contribution to greenhouse gases is likely to be from that tin of baked beans you finally managed to open.
Camping is incredibly popular again, but this has less to do with how green it is than with how much fun it is. So, throw a tent in the car and head for the hills with this special selection of Cool Camping sites.
* denotes no tent required
Related Internet Links
* Our dedicated section on camping and caravanning
Tents, caravans and motorhomes
The popularity of all three is rising sharply in Britain, and appeal is broadly spread - include a travelling aristocrat
Britain's perfect pitches
Adventure, romance, showers, zero guilt; a night under canvas has it all, says the editor of the Cool Camping guides
* All your tent gear
* Girls go mad on a motorhome in Yorkshire
* A novice and his caravan in Dorset
* Why not buy a static caravan or holiday lodge?
1. Three Cliffs Bay, Gower
Pick up a brochure or guidebook to this part of Wales and, chances are, it will feature a picture of Three Cliffs Bay on the cover. Justifiably so; it’s one of the finest beaches on the Gower Peninsula, an almost-round, sandy playground encircled by unique rock formations, with a series of limestone peaks rising dramatically into the air, then disappearing into the Bristol Channel like a retreating monster. Perched on the high ground behind the beach sits Three Cliffs Bay Caravan Park. The sloping ground and an occasional whipping wind may put off some campers, but the pitches overlooking the bay surely rank among Europe’s best camping spots.
01792 371218, www.threecliffsbay.com; pitches from £12
2. Side Farm, Cumbria
Side Farm, on the eastern side of the Lake District, might just be one of the most scenically situated camp sites on the planet, sandwiched between the steep slopes of Place Fell and the sylvan shores of Ullswater. The view across the lake to the Helvellyn fells is one of the most compelling and beautiful in England, and to be able simply to open the tent every morning on this stunning scene is reason enough for a visit. The site has flat pitching and adequate facilities, though they are far from luxurious. But bring a pair of walking boots, or a canoe, and the idyllic location will more than compensate for any minor niggles.
017684 82337; £5 adult, £3 child
3. Hooks House Farm, North Yorkshire
The gently sloping camping field at Hooks House Farm is possibly the best place to enjoy the magnificent views of Robin Hood’s Bay, one of Yorkshire’s most dramatic stretches of coast. If you tire of watching the tide washing in and out over the sweep of rocky beach, it’s a short stroll to Bay Town, an old smugglers’ haunt where ancient fishermen’s cottages cling to a near-vertical slope as the cliff drops down to a little fishing harbour at the water’s edge. The camp site’s vibe is peaceful, relaxed and low-key; a top-notch family-run site.
01947 880283, www.hookshousefarm.co.uk; from £4 adult, £2 child
COOL FOR CAMPFIRES
4. Cloud Farm, Exmoor
The 110-acre Cloud Farm is almost hidden from view, secreted away in the beautiful Doone Valley as it carves through Exmoor. The owners have succeeded in creating a relaxed countryside camping environment, with the site, stables and tearooms hidden among tall pines and steep, purple heather-clad slopes. There aren’t hundreds of rules to obey; you can pitch wherever you fancy and campfires are allowed.
01598 741234, www.doonevalleyholidays.co.uk; from £5 adult, £3.50 child
5. Larkhill Tipis, Carmarthenshire*
Twelve years ago, Larkhill was a simple family home surrounded by open farmland. But the new owners, Fran and Tony, had a plan – to turn this place into a peaceful woodland hideaway. They planted 60 species of tree, terraces were levelled off and tepees and yurts were built. Then Tony designed and constructed a log cabin to serve as a kitchen and dining room, with electricity powered by the wind and the sun. The result is a magical, mystical, low-impact woodland camp site – and a great use of redundant farmland.
01559 371581, www.larkhilltipis.co.uk; four-berth tepee £60 per night or £360 per week
6. Marthrown of Mabie, Dumfries*
Huddled around a fire to illuminate the gloom of their Iron Age roundhouse, our ancestors eked out a living in places like Mabie Forest. Follow in their footsteps by camping out at Marthrown of Mabie. This reconstructed Iron Age roundhouse allows up to 16 people to cosy up around a roaring fire and dream of times gone by. Nearby is a canvas tepee that sleeps eight; tents are also accepted, but the roundhouse is the real star. Luxurious extras include a sauna and hot tub.
01387 247900, www.marthrown.com; £15pp in the roundhouse or tepee, pitches from £10
BEACH WITHIN REACH
7. Treen Farm, Cornwall
Treen Farm, three miles shy of Land’s End, is a towel’s throw from some of England’s finest beaches. The nearest is Pedn Vounder, a tiny, isolated cove of golden sand accessed by a 10-minute clifftop walk from the camp site and a rocky scramble. At low tide, you can walk along the sand from here to Green Bay and the larger Porthcurno beach, a justly famous family favourite. If that’s not enough beach for your buck, it’s 10 minutes by car to Sennen, on the north coast, where Whitesands Bay, a sweeping arch of fluffy yellow sand, is one of Cornwall’s best surfing spots. Bliss.
01736 810273; pitches from £14 for a family of four
8. Pinewoods, Norfolk
Pinewoods Holiday Park may be too busy and corporate for some campers, but it’s the perfect base for exploring the north Norfolk coast. It’s a quick scramble through tall pines and over grass-covered dunes to the beach, a huge expanse of sand edged with a row of colourful huts. Westward along the Norfolk Coast Path is Holkham Nature Reserve, with miles of dunes and sand spits, conifer woods and intricate, changing tidal landscapes. Pinewoods rents out bikes for an idyllic spin through country lanes to appealing villages such as Burnham Deepdale and Burnham Market.
01328 710439, www.pinewoods.co.uk; pitches £9.25-£23.45
9. The Warren, Folkestone, Kent
Set on an attractive curve of the Kentish coast, the Warren looks out over Channel waters and chalky crags, giving campers the chance to spot France in clear weather. The Warren beach, below, might be sand, shingle or both, depending on its mood and the tide. It offers rock-pooling, fossil-hunting and sea-fishing to suit even the most active beach-lovers.
01303 255093, www.campingandcaravanningclub.co.uk,; from £5.65 per pitch, plus £5.60 adult, £2.15 child
10. Romany caravan, Ceredigion*
In a riverside meadow, Under the Thatch, a specialist in unusual and romantic breaks, has lovingly restored a Romany caravan to its original glory. It makes a magnificently authentic holiday time capsule: the brightly painted wood accentuates the craftsmanship, the bow-top roof curves impossibly, like a bubble ready to burst, and the half-and-half doors need only a large-busted Romany mother leaning out to complete the picture. The tiny interior has just enough room for a double bed across the back and a traditional potbelly stove. Cosy and intimate.
01239 851410, www.underthethatch.co.uk; two nights from £99
11. Native American tepees, Powys*
Need a break from the stresses of modern living? Eco Retreats offers four fully equipped tepees hidden in a remote forest location. As a place to chill, you won’t find many options more horizontal than this. The theme is peace and tranquillity, and each break includes a personal session of reiki healing and meditation as the sun sets. The tepees are luxurious and romantic, with sheepskins strewn across the double beds, tea lights scattered around and a welcome pack of organic treats.
01654 781375, www.ecoretreats.co.uk; two nights from £295
12. Lazy Duck, Inverness-shire
The Lazy Duck hostel and camp site are in the shadow of the Cairngorms, surrounded by heather and twittering birds. The tents nestle in a small glade, along with a rope swing, a comfortable hammock, a picnic bench and a chiminea, to keep you warm on chillier evenings. The “bush shower” is a defiant stand against the British climate – an outdoor, solar-heated experience – but the sauna is more relaxing. Light one of the scented candles, burn some essential oils and turn up the ambient CD. Who says camping can’t be romantic?
01479 821642, www.lazyduck.co.uk; pitch for two adults £10
FOR CARLESS CAMPERS
13. Great Langdale, Lake District
Great Langdale is a typical National Trust camp site: well organised, efficiently run, with just the right facilities, and set in some of England’s finest scenery. With the Langdale Pikes waiting to be explored on foot, it’s worth leaving the car behind – indeed, cars aren’t permitted in the camping areas, whereas walkers are pampered with a dedicated drying room for stashing rain-dampened clothes and boots overnight. From Windermere station, take bus 599 to Ambleside, then the Langdale Rambler (0870 608 2608 for times) all the way to the site.
015394 37668, www.langdalecampsite.org.uk; from £4.50 adult, £2 child
14. Fieldhead, Peak District
From Edale station, which lies on the main line between Sheffield and Manchester, it’s no more than a five-minute walk to Fieldhead, the perfect base for a ramble in the Peaks and a popular staging post on the Pennine Way. The camp site is made up of five intimately sized fields set at varying levels on a riverside hillock, with plenty of shelter provided by fences and hedges. The visitor centre has all the information you need: you could even plan a walk that finishes at another station along the line, then take the train back to your tent.
01433 670386, www.fieldhead-campsite.co.uk; from £3.50 adult, £2.50 child
15. Mains Farm, Stirling*
On the eastern fringes of Thornhill, Mains Farm is ideal for those who want the convenience of village amenities without sacrificing a remote location. It offers campers three distinct options: sleep under canvas, retreat to the comfort of a heated wooden wigwam or snooze like Hiawatha inside a giant tepee. Constructed to a traditional Sioux design and handmade in the Scottish Borders, the striking red, white and blue canvas tepee is perfect for families and small groups looking for something different. First Edinburgh (01324 602200) runs buses from Stirling to Thornhill.
01786 850735, www.mainsfarmwigwams.com; tepee from £50; wigwam from £30; pitches from £4.50, plus £1.75 adult, 75p child
GREAT FOR KIDS
16. Clippesby Hall, Norfolk
Clippesby Hall is like a self-contained little village. Set in the manicured grounds of a small, odd-looking manor house, it has everything a family could possibly want, and more besides. Given that it has 100 pitches (many with electrical hook-ups), an outdoor swimming pool, grass tennis courts, mini-golf, self-catering cottages, pine lodges and a family pub, you might assume it is as quiet and peaceful as a night on the hard shoulder of the A12. Well, you’d be wrong. Somehow, the owner has managed to incorporate all those facilities into the grounds of his family home while retaining its unique, relaxed character.
01493 367800, www.clippesby.com; pitch for family of four from £18
17. Spiers House, North Yorkshire
If you’re planning a camping holiday at Spiers House, don’t forget your mountain bike. Set in remote, magical woodland, this medium-sized campsite is undeniably pretty, but the principal draw for families is the miles of hassle-free, traffic-free (but not necessarily effort-free) cycling in Cropton Forest. An excellent Forestry Commission site, with spotless facilities and a well-stocked shop.
0845 130 8224, www.forest-holidays.com; pitch for family of four from £14.50
18. Roundhill, New Forest, Hampshire
For all the fancy toys and attractions on offer these days, what kids enjoy more than anything is space to run about. The Forestry Commission’s Roundhill site has acres of it – lovely green heathland space, and enough room to accommodate 500 families without feeling overcrowded. Clumps of trees are ideal for making camp and playing hide-and-seek, with additional entertainment provided by the horses, donkeys, cows and pigs that amble around the site, enjoying the freedom of the ancient New Forest grazing rights. There’s junior fishing on site from mid-June.
0845 130 8224, www.forest-holidays.com; pitch for family of four from £15.30
19. Surfer’s Paradise, Devon
There’s no disputing the beauty of Croyde Bay, a wide sweep of sand flanked by field-green north Devon hills. The surf is some of the best in the southwest, with the full force of the Atlantic swell providing hollow, low-tide waves and rideable beach breaks. Amid the dunes behind the beach is Surfer’s Paradise, a compact, sheltered site with showers in portable buildings. It’s popular with younger surfers and a party crowd – bring ear plugs if you want to sleep at night (or an eye mask if you’ll be partying all night and sleeping in the day).
01271 890671, www.surfparadise.co.uk; prices vary
20. Whitesands Beach, Pembrokeshire coast
Whitesands Beach, just a few miles northwest of St David’s, is a renowned Blue Flag beach with some great breaks. The campsite occupies a prime spot within surfboard-dragging distance of the water. It’s a low-key place: a runway-shaped strip of land with a shower hut at one end and the beach at the other. It has no reception or other facilities, but there is a cafe in the car park at the beach. The slightly elevated position is a great vantage point for keeping an eye on the waves.
01437 721472; £5 adult, £2.50 child
21. Hillend, Gower
Hillend nestles behind the dunes at Rhossili Bay, a four-mile swathe of surf-kissed sand at the western edge of the Gower Peninsula. It’s a big site, with 275 pitches on 14 acres of level meadowland, but the brand-new shower block can easily cope with the numbers, and there’s more than enough room for everyone to share the large beach. Conditions at Rhossili Bay are perfect; the full Atlantic swell and gently sloping beach combine to produce long, easy waves. The Welsh Surfing Federation (01792 386426, www. wsfsurfschool.co.uk) offers two-hour lessons; from £20.
01792 386204; pitches from £15
THE MIDDLE OF NOWHERE
22. Tyllwyd, Ceredigion
Tyllwyd is situated between the burbling waters of the Afon Ystwyth and an unclassified road high in the hills at the top of Cwm Ystwyth, about 20 miles inland from Aberystwyth. On the map, this looks like the back of beyond, and the winding road to the camp site seems to take forever. But it’s worth it, with the emptiest of Welsh hills as your playground. Facilities at the farmhouse across the road from the site are very good, but don’t forget the essentials – the nearest supermarket is 20 miles away.
01974 282216; pitch for two adults from £12
23. Hadrian’s Wall camp site, Northumberland
Unsurprisingly, this site is near the Unesco World Heritage Site from which it takes its name – but it’s not near much else. It sits among the wild, rugged borderlands, offering solitude off-season, and atourist frenzy in summer. The well-maintained, flat site has expansive views across the Northumberland hills; you might even glimpse the wall in the distance. Transport to and from various points along it is available on site.
01434 320495, www.romanwallcamping.co.uk; pitch and car £8, plus £1pp
24. Cnip Village, Isle of Lewis
This tiny crofting community on the western coast of Lewis, in the Outer Hebrides, seems like the last place on earth. In reality, if you kept going west, you’d end up on the Labrador coast of Newfoundland, but you’d never guess it as you stand on the dunes of Traigh na Beirigh, gazing out over the aqua-blue water. Here sits the quaintly named Cnip Village Grazing Trust camp site, a remote and peaceful space owned by the villagers and administered by Agnes at No 15. The fact that quaint places like this even exist in today’s cut-and-thrust world is remarkable.
01851 672265; pitch £5
The Cool Camping guides to England, Wales and Scotland cost £14.95 each.
To order a copy at the reduced price of £13.49, including p&p, call The Sunday Times Books First on 0870 165 8585. Visit www.coolcamping. co.uk for special offers