Camping is back in vogue, with the number of Brits choosing a camping or caravanning holiday up nearly 20% last year. There are several reasons for this, says Sophie Dawson, co-author of the Cool Camping guides, the bibles of the new camping cognoscenti.
‘To start with, we’re beginning to see more luxury options for people who want to rough it in style.’ More boutique hotel than budget holiday, these campsites offer spacious, ready-pitched canvas dwellings ranging from futuristic geodesic domes to exotic yurts and traditional safari tents, all packed with home comforts including duvets and wood-burning stoves. ‘Obviously these are more expensive than pitching your own tent, but it can still work out cheaper than a hotel.’ (See www.coldatnight.co.uk, www.hiddenvalleyyurts.co.uk and www.featherdown.co.uk for some great examples.)
For others, camping offers a greener alternative to long-haul flights and air-conditioned hotels, while for many people the appeal is linked to economics: ‘The credit crunch has left many people looking for affordable alternatives to expensive foreign holidays,’ says Sophie.
If you’re new to camping, Sophie suggests borrowing a tent and not going too far afield at first. Expect to pay between £10 and £20 a night for a two-person pitch, though prices can vary widely depending on the time of year and facilities offered. ‘Last summer I went to a little place that cost only £5 a night,’ says Sophie. ‘But for that you don’t get much more than toilets, running water and a place to pitch.’
Invest in a good guidebook, travel insurance and check that your chosen site has everything you need before you book. ‘For example, if you have very young children you may want baby-changing facilities and a laundry,’ says Sophie. ‘Check out what activities there are nearby, and what you can do if it rains. Some sites have shelters and a stash of board games.’
Where to pitch up…
According to Sophie, the best campsites are small, have decent-sized pitches and a character all their own. Cool Camping’s favourite English site is Henry’s at The Lizard in Cornwall (www.henryscampsite.co.uk; 01326 290596). Overlooking the sea, it has wonderful landscaped gardens full of tropical plants.
At the opposite end of Britain, another gem is Lickisto Blackhouse Camping (www.freewebs.com/vanvon/; 01859 530485) on the Isle of Harris. ‘The owners have turned it into a real oasis,’ says Sophie. In the evening, campers can get together round the peat fire inside the communal heather-thatched ‘blackhouse’, and they’re also free to help themselves to eggs from the chickens and veg from the garden.
In fact most of Scotland is a potential campsite, as it’s the only British country in which wild camping is legal. This means that you can camp in almost any open space, although in return you are expected to respect others’ privacy and care for the environment. Full details can be found at www.outdooraccess-scotland.com.
‘Wild camping is about travelling light and staying only a night or two in one place,’ explains Sophie. ‘We no longer recommend specific spots for wild camping because we found they got over-used and spoilt. Besides, discovering places for yourself is all part of the fun.’
Sophie’s camping essentials
Sleeping mat: the ground gets cold at night, so make sure you have plenty of protection underneath you, as well as on top.
Torch: head torches leave hands free and are ideal for late-night visits to the toilet.
First-aid kit: accidents can happen.
Bin bags: useful for sitting on damp ground; essential for rubbish and packing dirty clothes.
* For more information about camping in the UK and abroad, plus the full range of Cool Camping guides, visit www.coolcamping.co.uk.