Longlands is an idyllic haven from the busy world, with a boating lake, a sunset hot tub and a village of safari lodges that make camping the height of luxury. Alexandra Fraser didn't want to leave; here's what she thought when she finally did.
Nestled in a valley bordered by ancient beech woods which time seems to have forgotten, Longlands camping site is a nature lover’s dream.
A stone’s throw from the sleepy beach town of Combe Martin and completely at one with nature, this beautiful ‘glamping’ site appears to have sprung up from the ground it stands on, fitting seamlessly into the valley hillside with viewing roaming over rolling hillsides and down to the sea.
The environs make the trip worthwhile before one even turns onto the Longlands drive. Fifteen minutes from Wollacombe (reportedly the best beach in the UK) and perched right on the edge of the breath-taking Exmoor National Park, a more idyllic spot is hard to imagine.
The Longlands site is comprised of several luxury glamping tents, which closely resemble safari lodges on stilts. The brainchild of Bella Given (a highflying marketing executive who gave up her busy life in the city to create paradise), the mini village boasts its own lake, a honesty shop and enough walking paths to shake a forest of sticks at.
Every aspect of life has been catered to almost to a fault; it is camping, after all, and a seamless experience is not what you expect. One predicts a minor disaster – the stove wont light, the beds aren’t comfortable, the friend who forgot long pyjamas ends up with mild frostbite. Not here.
The stove which serves as an oven, space heater and heaven for pyromaniacs sports a flat top to cook on, but a smaller gas stove hidden in the kitchen holds the kettle nicely for a morning coffee. ‘I stayed in the cabins one night,’ jokes Bella, as she cheerily explains to us how to light the stove by creating a ‘mini Stonehenge’ from kindling blocks. ‘The next day, we had gas stoves.’
The main room of the lodge has a wonderful sofa, a chest full of games and a beautiful dining table for evening meals. A cosy cabin in the main room hosts a fun double bed and separates off the master bedroom, which in turn is divided from the third bedroom (containing two single beds) by tent canvas.
A real bathroom with a real sink and toilet sits in the wooden part of the lodge, although it wouldn’t look out of place in an adorable country cottage. A shower room provides the best shower you’ll ever have in the middle of a Devon valley, heated by a second furnace to wash away the chill of the ocean.
A small walk up past the lodges opens up to a mini clearing, containing a fire pit which doubles as a barbeque, a hammock stand which resembles a Viking long ship and a lovely bench to perch on with a glass of wine.
Depending on your fire-starting abilities, it may be prudent to wait for the Devonshire breeze to calm down before attempting to cook alfresco, but a little perseverance will have flames roaring against gusts of wind.
The success of your cooking depends very much on the height of your fire and the amount of time you’re willing to wait before conceding that the oven really was the more sensible option (about an hour, the last time I checked).
Should you give up entirely, Longlands has an extensive menu to order from and pick up at the honesty shop in the miniature village of buildings, which includes a beautiful dining venue for large parties.
Rain or shine, rowing Longlands’ very own lake never fails to amuse as a pastime; whether you’re re-enacting a scene from Wind and the Willows or The Notebook very much depends on your timing. Race Oxford and Cambridge (the two blue rowing boats) around the little island and back – skiffs move surprisingly fast when there’s an hour in the hot tub at sunset at stake.
The hot tub is another of one of those little touches which makes Longlands so special. Available for the ‘sunset’ or ‘starlight’ hour, the hot tub hosts six plus a bottle of bubbly and is the perfect place to relax after a long day of hiking and swimming.
It can be hard to leave the little Longlands village but you must visit Woolacombe, if only to complain about the water temperature and then dive in head-first anyway. If you’re adventurous, the waves are wonderful for surfing and a windbreaker or two (or six, on a particularly windy day) is just the ticket to sunbathe in peace.
If you’re unsure what to explore first, your cabin will have a handy guide detailing Bella’s recommendations, organised helpfully by the length of time you’ll be in the area. While you peruse the activities available, order one of the larder’s freshly-made cream teas, available to pick up from the larder at teatime.
A walk from your lodge around the site is a lovely way to start your morning (unless your unfortunately active friends manage to convince you to run the rather steep driveway instead) and the path which winds through the woods by the furthest lodge opens out onto some spectacular hillside views.
Perfect for a weekend getaway with friends, family or two other couples, you’ll find yourselves longing to return the moment the driveway entrance disappears from your rear-view mirror. And indeed many do – the guest books are peppered with entries of returners, some back for the third or fourth time to enjoy some of the best Devonshire hospitality north of Prawle Point. I don’t blame them and intend to join them the moment the scent of a log-fire burning in ocean air fades from my memory.
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