Ok, lets get the negatives over with the toilets and showers in the central reception area are in portacabins and up quite steep steps. A bit tatty and not very many of them. There are also composting toilets and portaloos dotted around, usually in a reasonable state. It took us a little while to discover these different toilets as there where none in our field. But that aside, lets move on to the good stuff! Continue reading
There are a few parameters that a campsite must fulfill for me to want to camp there. The most important to me is the ability to have a campfire. The fire is the focus of the camp. It provides warmth, light and a place to cook (even though the campervan has a hob we prefer to cook over the fire as often possible). Part of this blog will be our ongoing efforts to optimize over the fire cooking, recipes, equipment etc. CampingDad is especially keen on this stuff!
The other really cool thing about campsites that allow campfires is that they often fulfill some of my other parameters for finding a good campsite. I say no to to club houses, restaurants and bars, tents and caravans in regimented lines (urgh). Yes to large pitches and especially those who let you choose where you pitch. Yes to views, lovely tumbling rivers and streams, ropeswings, woods, good walks from the campsite. Ahh, makes me smile just thinking about it.
CampingDad thinks I am a bit too militant in always demanding a campfire so I try to keep my mind open to sites that look lovely but just don’t allow campfires (but why??). I do try, really.
No1 in this year’s editon of ‘Cool Camping’ and with very good reason. Campfires, check. Loads of fire pits and deliveries of wood . Ropeswings, check. Stream and ponds for the kids to splash around in, check. But Thistledown farm has even more to offer. Set in 70 acres of pasture and woodlands, the site was designed as an eco-education centre. As a result there are nicely made paths, woodland trails, friendly educational signs, loads and loads of space and an overall emphasis on eco friendliness. The main part of the campsite is in a valley of undulating pastureland, the grass is lush and green, the composting toliets and heated showers are in attractive wooden structures with lovely touches like sinks carved out of wood. The whole area is car free, campers must park their cars near the top of the valley and heave their gear down the hill in wheel barrows. The owners do offer lifts (for a fee) in their small all terrain vehicle if they are not too busy. The thought of this may be off putting to some, however, the tranquility of the camping area is a fair reward for the extra hassle.
A fabulous attraction is the stream, small lake and a few ropeswings dotted around the woods. In my experience these simple pleasures can proved hours of entertainment – the kids enjoy it too… This is a great spot for making and sailing some ‘Mini Rafts’.
An area called the ‘Elderflower Orchard’ is reserved for small campervans and those who choose not to lug their stuff down the hill. This area has portaloos and a standing tap and is a couple of degrees less idyllic than the carless camping area. However, even this is substancially better than many other campsites. The toilets are very well looked after and even the standing pipe, providing UV filtered water, has been thoughtfully designed with a proper soakaway to prevent the area under the tap from becoming a mud bath. Campers in this area have full access to all other areas of the site. And as an added bonus it is slightly cheaper.
Perhaps the best feature of Thistledown is the size and number of pitches. Pitches, based on fire pits, are very widely and randomly spaced, absolutely no straight lines or tripping over your neighbours guy ropes here. Unless you want to, as groups are permitted and can easily camp together.
The area is beautiful, leading directly from the farm is a deciduous woodland with lakes and streams, teeming with wild flowers and wildlife and an interesting manor house ( http://www.woodchestermansion.org.uk). Nearby can be found neolithic barrows, panaramic viewpoints and the foodie haven of Nailsworth. A little further afield lies the National Arboretum of Westonbirt and within an hours drive the Georgian World Heritage city of Bath. An area very much worth exploring.
In addition to the great lay out, facilities and area, the owners are friendly, helpful, non-intrusive and so obviously full of enthusiasm. It takes real passion to create and maintain a project like this and the ideas are still flowing.
If you love camping with a campfire have a look at these:
What an unusual place. Yes, officially in London, but surrounded by Epping Forest, not an area I had visited before. Epping Forest is massive (as I discovered when I got lost in it, but that’s another story). The campsite itself is pretty huge with several different fields. We stayed in the ‘Campfire Field’ (surprise!). We were camping with a large group of friends and for this purpose Debden house was very good. The pitches are absolutely enourmous, we had about 4 tents, 2 campervans plus day tents and gazebos galore and they all fit in one pitch. Each pitch has a large fire pit and backs onto the open forest. So far, so good! The forest is an amazing place to explore, just keep your wits about you almost everyone seems to have a lost in the forest story there!
However, there are down sides. It was rumoured that there was free firewood at the gates of the field but in reality it was a scraggy great heap of left over builders rubbish. Very little of it suitable for burning and really ruined the look of the place. The site is run by the council and the staff were, pretty disorganised and at times unhelpful. You are close to metropolitan London and you can tell. The rubbish both on the site and in the forest was a sad sight to see, people left pitches in a poor state, there was glass and metal on our fire pit. The toilets are far from most of the fields so many people used the woods.
A real shame because it offers a brilliant facility for those poor coutryside starved Londoners and Epping Forest really is magnificent. Because of this and because of its astoundingly large pitches and fire pits it is a good place to meet up with a group of friends – just watch out for booking confusion, be ready to stand your ground.
Cloud Farm is hardly a secret in this part of England. And at peak times it gets pretty busy but it still scores very highly for me. If you get there at a good time you can pitch next to the river (Badgworthy Water), which tumbles along merrily and, it has to be said, fairly noisily along the bottom of the valley. There is a fence presumably to stop small children falling in, but there are handy gaps at intervals so you can climb down, clamber over the rocks, and do all the other things that picturesque rivers require you to do.
On the oppposite side of the river is Exmoor. Although you are in a valley the views are lovely, there is a cute footbridge over the river from the campsite or if you are brave a few places you can step across on stones with only slightly wet feet, depending on how high the river is! It is well worth exploring this area. In one direction along the river there are several deep pools, very peaceful and beautiful and in the other direction you will find the ford where the occasional car or tractor splashes through and the kids can have a great paddle, next to which is a rather a sweet gift shop and a cafe. All most satisfying.
Nearby is Lynton and Lynmouth, the stony beach of Porlock and if you venture through the Valley of The Rocks near Lynmouth you might stumble across Lee Cove, a gorgeous cove which reveals acres of gorgeous sand as the tide recedes. The guy who runs the campsite is a yachtsman so ask him about tide times!
Fires are allowed, indeed encouraged, you can’t book so try and get there early for a riverside pitch. The site does spread a long way along the river but the furthest parts are quite a hike from the toilets. There is a shop with some basics and a lovely cafe selling crean teas. Yum. All set amongst the gorgeous wildness of Exmoor. A definite favourite.
Where: Priory Mill Farm, Brecon, South Wales,
How Much: £7.50 per adult, £4.50 per child (2-11)
Campfires: Yes, only in braziers but you can borrow them free of charge.
Wood: £5 per bag of logs
Facilities: Lovely toilet and shower block, a river and short walk to Brecon.
So much about this campsite is great. It has been well thought out, the facilities have been built with skill and charm, the Mill House is beautiful, they do not overcrowd the site and they do rent out fire pits. The site lies in a fairly narrow ribbon alongside a lovely tumbling river, just the right sort for kids to play around in, making dams etc.
On the down side, as you are down in a small valley it does feel a little enclosed, I was frustrated that I was in the Brecon Beacons with no mountains in sight. The road next to the site, although minor, is fairly busy during the day and being in a small valley the noise is a bit amplified. Where we were pitched was perhaps the worst spot. The river is behind a big screen of trees and down a steep bank so I did not feel able to leave the kids (one of whom is only 3) to play in the river by themselves, as I couldn’t see them. Of course, no fault of the owners and I certainly am not suggesting they should cut the trees down but just an aspect that made it slightly less than perfect for me, however, it was a good patch of shallow river great for building dams etc and would be great for slightly older kids.
Unfortunately, I had been unable to book a fire pit, having been assured that one would be available. When we turned up I was rather disappointed when it turned out there were none left. They did agree that we could use our fold up barbeque as a fire pit, and I was a happy camper once again. But I fear my experience was slightly tarnished in those important first moments of arrival. In addition, having set up camp at the far end of the site on a rather scrubby bit of land as we were in a campervan, I was somewhat miffed to find a campervan parked right in the middle of the lush meadow the next day.
The Brecon Beacons is a fantastic national park and our explorations of it are far from over. Priory Mill has done a lot right but I think you need to pitch in the right spot to get the most from it and try to insist on reserving a fire pit!
Or you could buy yourself your own Portable Fire Pit!
I have since been in contact with the owner of Priory Mill and I told her about my experience. She had the following to say:
I’m really sorry that your experience with us was not so great.
I’m not sure when it was that you came to stay, but it really is very rare for us to run out of fire-pits.
We had a few fire-pits stolen from our site towards the end of last year (quite disheartening) which meant that a couple of times we ran out, but only over one or two weekends at the end of the summer holidays. Noel has since made some more to replace these.
We are still planning on sticking with our honesty system this year (and lending our fir-pits out) rather than a deposit system (too complicated) in the hope that people will honour this and not take them home!
We have done quite a bit more clearing on the river bank this winter so that the river is more accessible than it was…. and sunnier too.
We have an area at the far end of the field that we use for campervans as it has hard core under the grass. This means that we can have campervans park there without damaging the grass where the ground is much softer.
Occasionally we have had people taking their campervans onto the softer grass area….. (possibly misunderstanding our directions to the hard standing area?)….. it is then difficult for us to insist that they move once they’ve set up, but I can see that this could be annoying to witness as a camper who has followed our request!
We endeavour to keep both the site and the grass in as good a condition as is possible until the very end of the season (end of October), but a very wet summer can make this quite a challenge. Keeping vehicles off the grass helps to prevent a late summer mud bath !
Once again I’m really sorry that your stay with us was not more enjoyable and I hope that if you come again it will be a better experience.
Woodland Loveliness. Continue reading
Fires and Views!!
Waking on a rainy morning, opening the doors of the van to the sight of clouds wrapped around the thick woods of the hills opposite and sinking down into the Wye Valley. Now that’s what camping is all about.Not much else at the site but, wow, what great views!
Beeches Farm also provides great stone circled fire pits and sells logs and kindling. There is walking access to the woods from the campsite. And nearby is Tintern Abbey, a ruined Abbey famous from Wordsworth’s lovely ditty. The facilities at last visit were adequate, nothing to rave about but did the job. A lovely, simple campsite, one of my favourites.