‘We suddenly found the children lost interest in electronic gadgets’: How to find a big outdoor adventure family holiday …
Easter is the time for many families to dust down the camping equipment and prepare for an adventure. But there are now camping options for all – ranging from five-star tents to sleeping in a church.
Sleeping out under canvas is far more than just about saving money – it offers a sense of freedom and a fun holiday adventure.
But preparation is key. You should not only book a campsite before heading off into the wilds but ensure your tent is in good condition and that you have all the extras required for the trip. Pete Martyres is owner of Tent Spares in Hinckley, Leicestershire, which specialises in supplying lost and broken tent parts.
Happy glampers: Rachel, second left, and Sarah Hughes – with their daughters Lili, left, and Esme – run The Fire Pit camp in Norfolk
He says: ‘You would be surprised how many people lose tent poles and pegs – accidentally leaving them behind at a campsite the year before. Another problem is flexible fibreglass poles that have snapped.
‘Now is the ideal time to put up your tent in the garden and make sure it is all there. We often get people calling the day before going off camping asking for replacement parts. Invariably, they have left it too late.’
His company provides replacement poles – often individually made for the tent – for £30. The firm also repairs ripped fabrics and can replace most parts of a tent that have got lost.
Martyres adds: ‘There is no need to throw away an old tent and replace it with a newer model – old-fashioned canvas tents are back in fashion. Do not be fooled by modern gimmicks such as inflatable tents. You cannot beat traditional models.’
If you want a good night’s sleep, sleeping mats are essential but inflatable mattresses are the most comfortable. You can buy electric air pumps that plug into car power sockets from £10 to save yourself a lot of energy and time blowing up a mattress.
Those who do not have a tent but have got the bug should see if they can borrow one from family or friends before investing what can be more than £300 for a top quality piece of equipment catering for four people.
Remember, you will also have to pack pillows, sleeping bags, towels, cooking and eating utensils.
Preparation: Pete Martyres advises checking over your tent
Picking a suitable camping spot is vital. Websites such as Cool Camping, Pitchup and UKCampsite can help identify one – including out-of-the-way spots that allow campfires without a static home caravan in sight.
Prices start from £10 a day and now is a great time to book for the summer months if you want to pitch your tent in a sought-after spot.
The Camping and Caravanning Club offers details of more than 2,000 campsites across Britain. Membership is £38 a year and can get you a 30 per cent discount on some sites. But you do not have to join the club to take advantage of its information on campsites.
If the prospect of waking up in the middle of the night with a soggy sleeping bag does not appeal then perhaps some glamorous camping might. With so-called glamping, someone else does all the tent pitching before you arrive – making sure the inner tent does not touch the flysheet when it rains.
It also adds a touch of luxury to the experience. The traditional nylon tent is usually replaced with a tepee, wigwam, pod or yurt – with prices starting at £40 per night. Check with the site but in many cases they will provide all the bedding and cooking utensils as well.
There are also a few luxury extras often included, such as a real bed mattress rather than a sleeping bag mat and perhaps even your own flushing toilet.
Such five-star treatment can often offer better value for money and more fun compared to a hotel room. Rachel Hughes runs The Fire Pit Camp in Wendling, Norfolk, with her sister Sarah.
They offer glamping services between May and September. She says: ‘With glamping you still get to enjoy the thrill of the great outdoors and sleeping under the stars. But at the same time you get pampered.’
Rather than a tent that needs to be put up, The Fire Pit Camp offers a semi-permanent dome made with hazel branches under canvas. There is a woodburner inside, a full double bed with sheepskin rugs and even a chaise longue for added relaxation.
The 40-year-old married mother of two says: ‘You can rustle up your own meals over the fire pit or get us to organise the cooking.
‘There is also a well-stocked cocktail bar and yoga classes on offer.’ Rachel, who has two children – Lili, 13, and Tom, seven – says glamping is fun for all the family.
She adds: ‘Kids love it. All of a sudden you find they are no longer interested in electronic gadgets but prefer to run around and enjoy the freedom of outdoors fun. There is often a festival atmosphere.’
The top luxury tent costs £180 a night, but up to eight people can share this accommodation and cost. There is no electricity but solar panels provide enough power to support a fridge, loos, shower, plug points and hot water. Other camping offers start from £20 a night if you wish to bring your own tent.
The website Go Glamping provides details of glamping sites across Britain. Other popular glamping operators include nationwide Feather Down, Surrey Hills Yurts, Secret Meadows in Suffolk and Strawberry Skys Yurts in Powys, Wales.
…AND NO MORE LIGHTS OUT
The Youth Hostel Association has reinvented itself in recent years. No longer are you expected to sleep on a rusty old bunk bed in a dormitory shared with the bobble hat brigade – along with wet socks on a radiator.
Now you will find en suite decorated rooms, designer kitchens and sometimes even leather sofas to relax on at the end of the day. Rather than a ‘lights out’ curfew call at 10pm, you can enjoy a licensed bar and round-the-clock wi-fi.
It also offers camping options that include not just sleeping under canvas but in so-called pods, shepherd huts and historic buildings. The latter include a former Dominican Friary and a moated Norman castle, costing from £15 in a shared room.
All pod cons: The Youth Hostel Association has reinvented itself
Individual membership is £15 a year for those that pay by direct debit – or £20 if using a debit or credit card. It gives you £3 off the price of accommodation. Private single rooms start from £20 while a shared room might only cost you £10. You do not need to be a member to stay at a hostel.
The National Trust is also trying to move with the times. As well as pottering around stately homes you can now camp in some of their grounds.
It offers dozens of campsites in unspoilt countryside – including glamping in yurts – as well as traditional bothies, bunkhouses and even cottages. Prices typically range from £10 a night for a tent pitch to £50 for glamping with a woodburner stove to £100 or more a night for a cottage.
It also offers ‘working holidays’ where you can learn traditional crafts, such as dry stone walling and coppicing, paying perhaps £110 for a couple of days accommodation with full board.
National Trust membership is £69 a year and enables you to enjoy discounts on what it offers – but you do not need to be a member to take advantage of all its benefits such as camp sites.
TAKE A PEW – AND SET YOURSELF UP FOR THE NIGH IN A CHURCH
The concept of camping in a church – known as champing – allows you to experience the adventure of sleeping in a historic and tranquil location.
There are now 27 churches in Britain that have signed up to the Churches Conservation Trust initiative.
From £49 a person, users get to enjoy the entire church for themselves. Fold-up camp beds, battery-operated candles, soft chairs and tea making facilities are provided – as well as bedding for a further £25 if you do not bring your own.
Comfy: The beds set up between church pews
You cannot cook meals – so a visit to a nearby pub is usually required – but you can bring your own alcohol and share the adventure with children and pets.
The churches are no longer used for worship and the accommodation costs help towards their maintenance and upkeep.
Chana James, 38, from Althorp, Northamptonshire, regularly goes champing with husband Daniel, 42, and children William, eight, and five-year-old Daisy. She says: ‘There is something magical about sleeping in an old church surrounded by history – the atmosphere is strangely calm.
‘Magical’: The churches offer fold-up beds and tea making facilities for guests
‘You can put aside your mobile phone and other electronic gadgets and enjoy the peace and tranquillity. It is a great place to share stories, read and play cards.’
Chana says you do not have to be religious to stay in the churches – although many champers turn the experience into a pilgrimage and stay in more than one church.
Although you get a roof over your head there is no hot water or electricity – but lanterns are provided and the setting can be grander than any hotel you might consider.
Home from home: Chana James regularly goes champing with husband Daniel and children William and Daisy
Some have flushing toilets while others have dry ‘composting’ loos.
Champing is not offered all year round because the churches are not heated. Bookings can be made between now and September.
For further details visit website Champing.