To travel abroad, or to stay close to home? That is the holiday dilemma the nation is currently grappling with – and in my household, it’s a very hot topic. Having been high with giddy excitement to be heading off on a post-Covid break recently, three pyjamaed, sleepy-eyed kids packed and passported, online check-in complete and all en route to Heathrow, my phone buzzed in my pocket. Flight cancelled. Next available flight in three days. “That’s a shame,” exclaimed my wife (but with more swearing). Kids were devastated. Holiday dream crushed.
We weren’t alone, of course: hundreds of flights were cancelled that day, while others had baggage issues or delays. Flying has become a high-risk method to start a holiday and the forthcoming summer peak will surely leave many families with experiences like ours.
By contrast, our previous family holiday was a breeze: a two-hour journey to Somerset and a modest yurt, thoughtfully furnished with beds, sofas and carpets for a cosy vibe, with a wood-fired hot tub on hand to wash away any woes. The kids learned bushcraft skills and we all enjoyed wild swimming in a nearby river. There were no cancellations, delays, lost luggage or long queues. (In fairness, there was a small queue for the pop-up cocktail bar, but then it does take time and patience to craft a truly outstanding mojito.)
It’s no wonder plenty of people who have never been camping before are considering a camping break in the UK for the first time. And this year may be one of the best times to do it – not only because the weather forecast is beginning to look more summery, but also thanks to the choice and availability of camping and glamping options on offer.
There has been a surge in new campsite openings across the country over the past two years, driven by Covid-hit businesses diversifying in response to increased demand from holidaymakers during travel-restricted times. This has raised the bar for all campsites, with many investing in better facilities, more luxurious glamping accommodation, or extras such as hot tubs.
These improvements make a more welcoming environment for first-time campers. And now that folks are able to travel overseas freely again (in theory, anyway), UK campsites should be noticeably quieter than they have been for the past few years – which means more space, fresh air, and marshmallows for us, my novice camping friends.
If you are a camping beginner, it’s also a good idea to look for safety in numbers. What better way to reconnect with family and friends than gathering a gang together for a game of rounders in the sunshine or chilling around a campfire? That relaxed, extended time together over a few days is a rare opportunity to completely step out of regular life, slow the pace down and appreciate some valuable time bonding together in the countryside, exploring woodlands, climbing trees, cooking and eating outdoors. It’s simple stuff, but it is what happy times and good memories are made of.
The great British summer holiday debate ends here, my fellow holidaymakers: camping wins this year – and by a sunshine-filled, marshmallow-fragranced country mile.
For the timid
Four Winds Camping and Canoeing, Cambridgeshire
This flat camping field in the fens offers easy pitching for first-time campers on a small and friendly site. Arrive on a Friday in summer and you can make things easier still by pre-booking a barbecue platter so dinner is taken care of while you busy yourself with pegs and guy ropes. The site has a peaceful riverside setting and canoes available to hire.
How to do it: From £20: 01354 658737; fourwindsleisure.com
Pete’s Field, Kent
The bell tents at this campfire-friendly, off-grid site mean you can try life under canvas without having to invest in your own tent. They are set up with all the basics, except bedding, so you can just turn up with a sleeping bag and start enjoying campsite life. It’s a back-to-basics place but the friendly hosts are always on hand to help.
How to do it: Bell tents £90, pitches from £15: 07588 379844; petesfieldcamping.co.uk
Dragonfly Woodland Camping, Pembrokeshire
This laid-back campsite offers secluded pitches among the trees of a nine-acre woodland that’s part of a family farm. Each pitch has a firepit with logs included and a shelter over a picnic bench that means you can enjoy the outdoors, whatever the weather. There are stretch-canvas covers for communal areas too. The site is close to the Cleddau Estuary and not far from Pembrokeshire’s beautiful beaches.
How to do it: From £40: 07919 911611; dragonflycamping.co.uk
Kestrel Lodge, Lake District
This sociable campsite is both family- and dog-friendly with a fantastic location close to Bassenthwaite Lake. There are great views of the fells and the owners keep the facilities immaculately clean. A handy honesty shop is stocked with bits and bobs so there’s no need to panic if you’ve forgotten something. And if you don’t fancy cooking at all, there’s a pub within walking distance.
How to do it: From £22: 01768 776752; kestrellodge.co.uk
Worfe Camping , Shropshire
If you’re nervous about sharing facilities, this campsite in Shropshire may be the place for you. Each of the six grassy off-grid pitches, set within a 48-acre working farm, has its own compost loo, shower, picnic bench and firepit: it’s proper camping with bells on. Other highlights include a handy undercover space with sofas and a kettle, a riverside setting and a location not far from Ironbridge Gorge.
How to do it: From £55: 01952 750242; worfecamping.co.uk
For the glampers
Rockfield Glamping, Monmouthshire
Bell tents with their own bathrooms put a bit of rock-star luxury into Rockfield Glamping. Tents are warmed by log-burning stoves, the horse-box bathrooms feature actual baths, and a welcome bottle of bubbly eases you into glamping in the Welsh countryside.
How to do it: From £150 07837 648315; rockfieldglamping.com
Seaview Tipis, Cornwall
High on a cliff, the 10 Seaview Tipis offer adult-only glamping overlooking the Bedruthan Steps. The tipis are comfortably kitted out and each has a firepit to help you make the most of the views.
How to do it: From £12: 07769 208607; seaviewtipis.co.uk
Bamburgh Under Canvas Northumberland
Five lotus bell tents offer glamping for grown-ups in a spacious seven-acre field, all with proper beds and bedding, a log-burning stove and views towards the Cheviot Hills. There are shared loos and hot showers with eco-friendly toiletries, and you can walk to the village, castle and beach in around 15 minutes.
How to do it: From £125: 07791 963926; bamburghundercanvas.co.uk
Celtic Woodland Holidays Powys
The cabins and tree house at this woodland site offer a way to get off grid without going the whole hog in a tent. Fairy lights line pathways to these curvy timber constructions, which are powered by solar energy. They have a log burner, beds (but no bedding) and kitchenettes. Bookable extras, like bedding and barbecue packs, make holidays even easier.
How to do it: From £65: 01982 553022; celticwoodlandholidays.co.uk
Loch Katrine Eco Camping, Scotland
There are ten lochside lodges at this site in Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park, from which you can walk up mountains, hire bikes or take to the glassy waters. Lodges vary from cosy to family-sized with en-suite facilities, but all are comfortable and well appointed.
How to do it: From £75: 01877 376315; lochkatrine.com
For the intrepid
Badrallach Campsite, Scotland
This remote campsite in the Highlands is the perfect place for a proper adventure – even for beginner campers. The location overlooking Loch Broom is pretty wild and offers access to plenty of outdoor activities but with the reassurance of campsite facilities and a warden who visits daily. There’s even a bothy which is usually available for the use of campers if the weather or midges get a bit much outside.
How to do it: From £6: 07719 536 870; badrallach.com
Beech Estate Campsite, East Sussex
You don’t have to venture far from London to find a campsite that ticks the intrepid box. Beech Estate offers pitches and bell tents among the trees of a 600-acre wood, within a couple of hours’ drive of the city. Campfires, compost loos, bucket showers and birdsong add to the sense of adventure that starts when you wind your way down woodland pathways to find your pitch.
How to do it: From £22: 01273 980218; pegsandpitches.co.uk
Hazel Mount Fellside, Cumbria
This almost wild campsite offers pitches on the quiet western edge of the Lake District. You park up and walk to a grassy, off-grid camping pitch that’s one of just four. None have electric hook-up or running water but there are compost loos and incredible views of the Duddon Estuary. While you are well off the tourist trail, you’re still close to Coniston Water, Ambleside and Windermere.
How to do it: From £25: 07851 197272; hazelmountfellside.co.uk
Hole Station, Devon
This site offers grown-up camping with campfires in a 23-acre woodland. Its 19 pitches each have their own loo and are well-spaced among the trees. You can pitch your own tent, park up in a campervan or rent a tent from owners, Greg and Liz. These pre-pitched tents with safari-style camp kitchens offer an easy way to adventure that’s perfect for beginner campers.
How to do it: From £36 per pitch or £68 to rent-a-tent: 01409 231266; holestationcampsite.co.uk
Mynydd Mawr, Gwynedd
This traditional campsite on the tip of the Llŷn Peninsula will win over intrepid first-time campers with its sea and countryside views. There are plenty of walks from the site, including the two-mile hike along the coast to Aberdaron where there’s a beach and boat trips to Bardsey Island. Back on site, immaculate facilities, electric hook-ups and a cafe make the camping easy if the Welsh weather is tough.
How to do it: From £13: 01758 760223; aberdaroncaravanandcampingsite.co.uk
For social types
Wroxham Barns, Norfolk
If keeping the kids happy is key, try taking them to Wroxham Barns where they will be well entertained by farm animals and new-found friends. This neat, summer-only campsite is situated out back of a family farm park – and staying here gives you unlimited access to all of its attractions. There are also circus skills workshops on site and friendly wardens who’ll help you settle in.
How to do it: From £195 for two nights: 01603 783762; wroxhambarns.co.uk
Walltree House Camping, Northamptonshire
It’s all about camping with friends at Walltree House, where pitches are mown into sociable clusters with shared campfire pits in the middle. There are 30 pitches situated in the grounds of Walltree House, a farmhouse B&B, all sharing rustic facilities and a countryside setting in Northamptonshire. It’s a great base from which to explore with an exciting array of activities a short stroll away at Hinton Airfield.
How to do it: From £10: 01295 477907; walltreehouse.co.uk
Sycamores Camping, Cornwall
You may not arrive at Sycamores Camping with friends, but you’re almost certain to leave having made a few. This sociable site in Cornwall has a friendly owner who helps everyone feel at ease and keeps the simple facilities clean. It’s an 18-pitch site with a couple of bell tents that are perfect for novice campers and the communal campfire area is a good place to chat with fellow guests.
How to do it: From £28: 01840 212894; sycamores-camping.co.uk
Radcot Leisure on Thames Oxfordshire
There’s no reception desk for this campsite. Instead, you check in at the bar of Ye Olde Swan pub then make your way over the bridge to riverside pitches and tipis on an island in The Thames. It’s a lovely and lively location with food, drinks and a beer garden just a stroll away, and paddleboards and kayaks available to hire too.
How to do it: From £15: 01367 810220; yeoldeswan.co.uk
Hawarden Farm Shop, Flintshire
A communal campfire area, shared undercover spaces and a farm shop with a bar make Hawarden Farm Shop a sociable spot to camp. It offers plenty of space, style and good food in North Wales. There are bell tents for those who don’t have their own, and the farm shop cafe and bar mean there’s an option for those who don’t fancy campfire cooking.
How to do it: From £44: 01244 533442; hawardenestate.co.uk
For the quirky
Goytree Glamping, Herefordshire
A treehouse, two yurts and a unique canvas and timber construction make up the accommodation at Goytree Glamping where there’s a kind of rustic luxury on offer. Set on an 18-acre organic farm close to the Welsh border and the Brecon Beacons, each features a cosy space crafted from natural materials and has a wood-fired hot tub or roll-top copper bath. These utterly charming off-grid getaways have a fairytale appeal.
How to do it: From £100: 07869 344258; thegoytree.com
Barefoot & Bower, Gloucestershire
Wild swimming and woodland walks are on offer at this site between the Cotswolds and the Wye Valley where six yurts and a shepherd’s hut sit on the edge of a woodland lake. If you’re a bit chilly after your swim, you can warm up by the campfire or get cosy under sheepskins in your stylish yurt or hut. Each has its own compost loo, shower and rustic kitchen too.
How to do it: From £200: 07876 245 359; barefootandbower.co.uk
Ayrshire Airstream, Scotland
A classic American caravan and Polynesian tiki bar are found next to a babbling burn in a Scottish glade at this exclusive-hire site. The caravan has its own kitchen, loo and power shower and is fitted out in modern style with a few nods to its 1970s roots. Outside there’s a covered deck, a hot tub, fire pit and hammock as well as that private bar.
How to do it: From £150: ayrshireairstream.com
Abberly Glamping, Worcestershire
Romantic glamping is offered in a rustic cabin and shepherd’s hut in an old damson orchard at Abberly Glamping. These are stylish spaces with plenty of authentic vintage charm and an emphasis on living outdoors. To that end there are tripods over fire pits for cooking alfresco and, for guests at the cabin, a pair of open-air tin baths by the stream that runs through this lovely site.
How to do it: From £220: 07960 030775; abberleyglamping.co.uk
Big Sky Hideaway, Lincolnshire
Choose to stay on an American bus or a British one at Big Sky Hideaway. They are the comfiest and quirkiest of a whole range of accommodation options on this flat fenland site, six miles from the market town of Boston. Each has been well converted to provide a unique space for up to six people on a sociable site which is also home to a herd of alpacas.
How to do it: From £160: 07872 986084; bigskyhideaway.com
What to bring
Tent: Buy in-store if it’s your first – preferably pitched to get a better sense of scale.
Sleeping bag: A three-season sleeping bag covers you comfortably in the UK, where only the brave venture out in winter.
Foam roll mat: A foam mat or air bed offers insulation as well as comfort.
Camping chairs: It’s easy to convince yourself you’ll be happy on a log. You won’t.
Pre-cooked meal: Saves the faff of cooking at the campsite the day you arrive.
Football: The ideal way to make friends and leave the children under the watchful eye of other parents for a while.
Freezer bags: For food storage, keeping clothes dry, and trainer covers for dewy grass if you don’t have wellies.
Corkscrew: Easy to forget, but essential.
Patience: Camping is about enjoying life in the slow lane. Relax.
Need to know
Arrive in the morning
You might want to leave straight from work and tick off that four-hour drive, but you’ll regret it when you’re fighting the tent in the dark.
Take time choosing a spot
Explore the whole campsite before you pitch, deciding how close you want to be to facilities, other campers, sun or shade.
Chat with your host
Google and Tripadvisor will tell you where everyone else goes – but the campsite owner will know the hidden footpath to the gin distillery that’s hosting an open day that weekend.
Have a campfire
Or you’ll be green with envy when the evening gets cooler and other campers are toasting marshmallows.
Don’t rely on SatNav
Read the instructions your host sent to you or check for directions on the campsite’s website ahead of time.
Let the kids stay up late
You can’t fight the daylight or the sound of other kids staying up late. Embrace it and be liberal with bed time.
Beg, borrow and reuse
Borrow kit from friends or the growing number of equipment hire companies.
Jonathan Knight is Chief Camper at Hipcamp (formerly Cool Camping). Additional writing by James Warner Smith and Amy Woodland. Visit hipcamp.com for more camping inspiration.