Where: Debden House. Epping Forest, Borough of Newham
How much: £10 per adult and £4 per child (this was quoted to me on an e-mail from Debden in April 2013 but pricing does seem changeable)
Campfires: Only in Fire Fields 5 and 6. Big fire pits.
Wood: Large piles of wood of all sorts left at the entrance to the fire fields, including pallets, tree stumps, old doors etc. Bring an axe.
Types of camping: All kinds! Group, individuals, families, tents, vans, caravans, schools, brownies, teenage groups, etc
Facilities: Two toilet blocks, one with showers.
The review: ‘Why are you trekking all the way over there?’, was the general cry when I disclosed the location of last weekend’s camping trip to my local friends. I live in Bath, with excellent access to much of the South West and Wales, so why trek across the country to the outer limits of London to camp? Well, to be honest if it were entirely in my hands I probably wouldn’t , but I did, twice in fact, we went last year too. And why? To meet up with friends from London of course!
Last time, as we arrived we had problems with a rather scary large family who had pitched on our pitch (which had been booked for about 6 months) who were absolutely NOT moving. To be fair I understood their position, they had been told to camp anywhere so they did. Sadly they didn’t understand our position, quite loudly. It did not make a great start to that visit. Anyway as we arrived this time after a VERY long and complicated journey I was just hoping there would be no scary confrontations to deal with before we could set up. And my wish was granted. But, what is the saying? ‘Be careful what you wish for’. There was very little chance of anyone nicking our pitch because it was on the side of a mountain. Ok, I am slightly overstating the geography, but the pitch was properly slopey. We found a part sort of flattish bit, only not really, we had to get the kids to switch sides in bed so big one wouldn’t squash little one and add extra height to the head end of our bed. The main problem was that we were expecting four or so tents to turn up the next day and there was no hope for them finding anywhere remotely flat to pitch. I spoke to the lady in reception the next day and she advised me that we could choose anywhere in field 6 as an alternative. Turned out that field 6 was pretty slopey too and when our friends turned up they trembled slightly at the thought of camping in the ‘party field’. Indeed, the next evening 3 police cars turned up in field 6 to deal with – well, whatever you need 3 police cars to sort out! Fortunately, following a further call to reception we were allowed a fabulously flat pitch in the corner of Field 5. All move. Much better. Apart from the bog. But I can’t really blame that on the campsite, there has been a phenomenal amount of rain recently!
There are two very important things to know about Debden House. Number 1, it is huge. Really mind bogglingly enormous. Just to give you some sense of scale, there was a VW fest going on in one field and I ‘m not even sure where it was.
There are 7 fields in all, each one in itself the size of a pretty big campsite. And it isn’t just the campsite that is huge, it’s the piches too. On our pitch we had 5 medium sized tents, 2 two man tents and a campervan. In ONE pitch! And because the field is so huge it is perfectly acceptable to spread into the middle a bit too so you can really have a great group camp.
Now, given its enormousness you might imagine an abundance of facilities. You would imagine wrong. There are two toilet areas, see the blue spots on the map. The one in the middle is not wonderful.
The toilet roll runs out in the evening, and I did find myself thinking of composting toilets with unexpected longing. My main gripe is the long hike to get there. I quite like the walking to the toilets thing when you are camping, but it really is a long way. As a result, lots of people use the woods immediately behind their pitch. Again, weeing in the woods is a fine by me , but leaving bits of loo paper hanging off the bushes is not fine. If you need a bit more luxury the toilet and shower block near the entrance is very well appointed, although an even longer trek from the ‘Fire Fields’.
The second really important thing about Debden House is its location. Right in the middle of Epping Forest. I confess I had previously harboured the notion that Epping Forest was a bit like Forest Gate, where all that is left of the forest is the name. I was wrong. Epping Forest is large and magnificent. It is home to an abundance of wildlife, scores of ponds and lakes, mature oaks, beeches, hornbeam. Truly beautiful. Great for nature lovers, cyclists, walkers and rope swing lovers! It is an incredible place for Londoners to have relatively easy access to. The great thing about Debden House is that it is all right behind your pitch. Once you get beyond the tide mark of litter at the very edges you are straight into proper forest. There are rope swings dotted around and endless opportunities for den making, wildlife observing, tree climbing and general good clean fun.
I am very torn about this site. There are some very good things about it. One of the fields is given over to institution camping, I mean brownies, youth groups, schools etc. A very heartening sight. Campfires are clearly a popular feature. The forest is amazing and the place is so enormous I doubt it would ever feel crowded. It is great for group camping, loads of space. However, the facilities are inadequate, people don’t take care, the staff don’t seem very engaged and there are definitely some problems with large groups of young people, although they do seem to have their own field. Oh and watch out for pitch 8 fire field 5, seriously its a mountainside. Also, it did seem rather expensive to me.
On site there is also a cycle hire facility www.gofurthercycling.co.uk , a little cafe and a campers shop. I didn’t use any of these so can’t really comment!
In the end I guess it depends what you are after. I wouldn’t recommend trekking across the country for it- unless you have a bunch of friends from London who fancy doing a group camp. However, if you live in London and want a taste of forest and real camping, this is a good option.