The numbers are significant: 250 new campsites so far this year on booking portal Pitch Up, 100 new glamping locations on the Canopy & Stars website, and more to come, plus a host of other treehouses, yurts, caravans and simple pitches awaiting your own canvas.
This summer looks set to offer a bumper selection of new possibilities, partly a result of relaxed regulations about pop-up sites, but also because relatively few Britons are expected to holiday oversees. Bookings are up everywhere – threefold at specialists Glampingly – but increased supply means there is plenty of choice still available.
What makes a good site? Let’s start with a basic one, which lays on a toilet and maybe a shower but little else. The assumption is you are outside the tent most of the time. What I want to know is where can you walk to? Is there a river or lake nearby and can you swim in it, or kayak or fish? What wildlife might be spotted? Can I have a fire? Where’s the nearest pub? How many pitches are there and how close together? Simple campsites are nearly always deeply embedded, by necessity, in local life. Good owners can tell you where best to shop, eat, and drink. This new crop certainly look promising.
New in Suffolk
Wild Riverside Camping and the new Suffolk Wild Camping (which will launch soon) are on the same large farm close to the Suffolk coast. Jonathan Simper started with a 2.4-hectare pop-up site in 2020 and is doing the same this year, and adding another large field. Pitches are going to be further apart than last year’s 10 metres. The River Deben is a few minutes’ walk away, and kayaks, paddleboards and dinghies are welcome. If you don’t catch your own fish then the farm operates commercial boats which will. There’s even a smokehouse that turns out kippers and salmon. The film The Dig shows what the area looks like: many of the exterior shots were done on the farm. Sutton Hoo is nearby and there’s a pub, The Ramsholt Arms, along the river. Wildlife is abundant with otters spotted regularly, marsh harriers, barn owls and three kinds of deer.
• Pitch from £30 (up to 5 people). This is a site operating under the new 56-day opening rule (the limit for a pop-up site) and so only operates at weekends
Also basic in Warwickshire
Opening up for the first time is Long Meadow Campsite near Warwick, a four-hectare plot with toilets and showers. There are plenty of local footpaths, the pick being the routes around Edgehill where Charles I raised his standard in what would be the first battle of the English civil war (there’s a good pub, The Castle, on the site now). There are lovely rural views and the Peacock gastropub at Oxhill is within walking range. For other attractions – the Cotswolds, Warwick Castle, Stratford-upon-Avon – you’ll need a car. Campfires are allowed.
• Pitches from £26 a night, open 30 April to 1 September
And another in Devon
Stitchpool Farm near South Molton popped up for the first time in 2020 and will be back for the summer holidays. There are just 30 pitches so no crowds. You get a shower, a loo and running water but the rest is up to you. With Exmoor and the North Devon coast nearby, there’s plenty to do. Plus there is the characterful Poltimore Arms pub a two-mile walk away.
• Pitches £25 a night for up to 4 people, open 16 July-30 August
Sussex riverside location
New Wharf sits on the River Adur in Sussex with access to swimming and boating, but here you can hire kayaks and paddleboards. There’s a little more in the way of facilities: you can get a shower. Campfires are allowed and there are no cars permitted on the camping area, making it child- and dog-friendly. The nearest beach is eight miles away and Brighton is a day trip.
• Family-size shepherd huts from £120 a night, camping £15pp, open April–September
Wild swims and a good pub in the New Forest
Any campsite that boasts decent wild swimming immediately catches my eye, and Harry’s Meadow in the New Forest is no exception. A grassy field beside the River Avon, the site is great for a dip. There is also an excellent pub, the Horse and Groom, within easy walking distance. This year, the Sheriff family’s operation has grown to two separate fields with slightly different ambience: Harry’s Meadow for wilder and simpler; Harry’s Field for extras, such as a pizza oven and a beer wagon – actually a well-laden Land Rover from the local Downton brewery.
• Pitches start at £20 plus £9/£4 an adult/child, open 9 July-30 August
Stepping up the facilities in Norfolk
Here at Camp Elwood we are moving up a level in facilities: hairdryers, a children’s playground, electric hook-ups for vans, a dining hall with restaurant and takeaway, and an Americana-themed licensed bar playing surfer tunes. At its heart, however, this is still a pop-up site in a fine location. It’s on the Holkham Estate with a lake (boats to hire), bicycle trails (bikes available), long walks (the Norfolk Coast Path) and a sandy beach that leads into a national nature reserve where you might hear the natterjack toad, spot redshanks and even, with luck, a white-tailed sea eagle.
• Three-night weekend stay for two is £210, open 26 July-9 August
Out of the canvas and into the trees in west Wales
Camping becomes glamping when the roof is solid, but with that I expect to want to hang around the house, simply because it’s so damn gorgeous. Rhodri and Sarah Lloyd-Williams built Ty’r Onnen (the House of Ash) after watching Cabins in the Wild on Channel 4. It’s a treehouse on their organic sheep farm, seven miles from Aberystwyth, that is off-grid yet also feels luxurious. Lounge in bed watching hares run around the meadow in their droves, then step out on the balcony for a hot, open-air shower. The couple have used lockdown to build another treehouse, Ty’r Derw (the House of Oak), half a mile away, that promises the same mix of wild and wonderful – plus a hot tub. The wildlife is spectacular: pine martens and polecats in the woods, barn owls and red kites overhead. If you do get twitchy, yomp away into the deserted hills or get down to Borth beach for a swim.
• Ty’r Onnen sleeps 2, from £140 a night; Ty’r Derw will sleep 4, price TBA
Still up in the trees, in Scotland
The definition of treehouse seems to have shifted in recent years to be more like a cabin on stilts, but I’m fine with that. Flycatcher and Willow Warbler, an hour’s drive north of Edinburgh and Glasgow, are definitely on stilts, among trees, and all the better for it. There’s a rope bridge between them if hiring both, plus a sundowner deck and outside copper bath. The nearby River Teith offers plenty of bankside walking and further afield you have the Loch Lomond and The Trossachs national park.
• Both sleep 4 from £130 a night
More Welsh glam
There’s an tendency among glampsite owners to post stage-managed photos of a bottle of champagne and two half-filled glasses – as if this tells you anything useful about the site. However, in the case of Retro Queen, I make an exception. This is a place where the bubbly fits perfectly: a colourfully curvaceous 70s themed cabin has extras, such as a cassette machine! There is a wood-fired hot tub and smart TV, plus outdoor cooking facilities. If you prefer the 80s, head for Retro Madonna, its neighbour. There’s a pond and wildlife (binoculars provided), but for me the star is the Ceredigion coast a short drive away (as the crow flies, at least). Llangrannog, New Quay and Aberaeron all offer good places to start a coast walk.
• Both sleep 6, from £115 a night
On wheels in Northumberland
At its best, glamping design seems to release shedloads of creative ingenuity. Ashton Symm has exerted his on a Bedford TK lorry. And why not? Incarnations of this unsung design classic have included a fire engine, army personnel carrier, chuck wagon, horsebox, and now, with this 1964 model, a family-size glamper with logburner, copper sink and shower. At Abbeyfields, you get a large field to yourselves with walks in the woods and meadows (the market town of Morpeth is a mile away) plus the campfire and awning.
• Sleeps 4, from £110 a night
Also on wheels – in Herefordshire
Mojo and Kizzy Fell were doing fine renting Airstream caravans to film stars on set when lockdown came. Some quick readjustment of business plans means we can all enjoy their stunning vans now. The Wells Glamping is on their 16-hectare farm in some of Herefordshire’s best scenery. There’s plenty of good walking and an excellent pub nearby but why would you go anywhere? Light a campfire next to your wagon and sit out under the stars. Last summer they had five vans – this year they hope to have 12.
• Booking available soon. Each van is £250 a night and sleeps up to 5, open April–October
On wheels – and still moving – in the Lakes
The location of this gem can be difficult to pinpoint: owners Hannah and John move Hinterlandes around, although always within the confines of the Lorton valley in the Lake District and always tucked away in a field. Inside, there is beautifully crafted panelled woodwork, as well as a large logburner and marble-tiled shower. Outside, is a large bath to soak in under the trees.
• Sleeps 2, from £155 a night