Head for the lakes: Boats, barbies & a breath of fresh air...

A campervan camp at the lakeside

A campervan camp at the lakeside - Credit: Archant

Local writer, author and ‘campervan cook’ MARTIN DOREY heads off in search of summer fun (and a little solitude) by taking the kids on an active weekend at one of Devon’s best kept secrets Photos by Martin

Andy does his best to make it look easy

Andy does his best to make it look easy - Credit: Archant

Camping can often provide you with little gifts. These are the precious moments, the unforgettable times that would have been impossible any other way.

Daniel gets a lesson in marshmallows

Daniel gets a lesson in marshmallows - Credit: Archant

Waking up at Roadford Lake near Okehampton was one such gift I shall cherish from the summer of 2013. I slipped out of my sleeping bag, slid open the campervan door and strolled quietly away from our campsite through thick, dew filled grass.

In a few yards I was at the lakeside, overlooking 700 acres of the calmest water I have ever seen. The sun had just risen and the heat of the day had yet to pierce the dawn. A light mist hung above the water as midges swarmed in the early sun. Swallows in search of breakfast darted into them.

I knew it wouldn’t stay this way for long so I lingered to enjoy the silence. In a few hours the kids would be up and on the water, screaming with delight at their inability to keep a sailing boat upright. It would be a different place altogether. But for now, it was just mine to share with the early birds.

Roadford Lake is one of the South West Lakes Trust’s three locations in Devon where it is possible to stay overnight, whether under canvas or in a camper. As they are off the beaten track they are great places to get away from the crowds and the coast when it all gets a bit too, well, coast-like.

These are also the locations where the trust operates their ‘Outdoor and Active’ centres, so, for people with hyper kids they are perfect for weekend getaways. You can hire kayaks, sailing dinghies and windsurfers, take a taster course in sailing or paddling or even scare yourself silly on a high ropes course. Finally, if you stay overnight or get up early, you can enjoy some precious moments of tranquillity by the water.

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In my experience of camping at Tamar Lakes and at Roadford the routine is the same: the days are sun splashed and water soaked and the nights are as peaceful as they are long. Once the activity centres pack up, the day visitors leave and the café serves its last cream tea, you get the place almost to yourself.

It was the same on the weekend last summer when I had woken at dawn. We had met up with friends, found a suitable pitch for all of us, set up camp and cooked a huge paella over our fire pit. As the evening wore on and the sun went down it became clear that, save for the odd hooting of an owl, we were the only ones making much of a sound.

The night was still, the skies clear and the woods surrounding the campsite virtually silent. If my memory serves me right the stars may have also twinkled. And of course, the kids toasted marshmallows over the fire. What camping trip would be complete without that? When you go, don’t forget them!

The following morning we had organised a sailing ‘experience’ with one of the instructors from the Outdoor and Active centre. After a quick briefing and tour of the boats and their rigging, we set sail in a chaotic flotilla of four boats.

Thankfully, hot summer days are often still so we weren’t troubled by much of a breeze. Even so, we skipped across the lake with the safety boat in hot pursuit (ahem) until we reached the centre of the lake. There we learnt some sailing basics, including how to capsize. That was the most fun and brought shrieks of delight from even the smallest kids.

As soon as they realised that capsizing wasn’t an awful experience they did their best to make it happen as much as they could. No one minded because that was why we were there – to learn. The games raised our water confidence.

We enjoyed it so much that I took to the water again with my eldest later that afternoon to perfect our gybe and capsizing technique. We laughed all the way across the lake and back before realising that we had forgotten how to get the boat to stop at the landing stage. We made a very undignified dismount.

No matter, it was another of those precious moments. And we’ll definitely be back for more.

Why not take to the lakes this summer…?

Upper Tamar Lake, near Bradworthy, North Devon

It’s a delightful spot that’s hidden away in the hills of those 100 or so square miles of nothing between Bideford and Bude. The camping field has great views over the lake and they have recently installed camping pods for the ‘never say never’ campers who need more luxury. There are showers, toilets and recycling facilities.

Telephone: 01288 321712

Roadford Lake, near Okehampton, Devon

Get the right spot and you could be camping right next to the lake. It’s a great place to wake. Facilities include modern showers, wash-up area, washing machine and drier, waste disposal and recycling facilities and a new undercover barbecue area. There are ten electric hook-ups and nine hard standing pitches. Dogs are welcome but must be kept on a lead.

Telephone: 01409 211507

Wimbleball Lake, Exmoor

Another quiet spot in the middle of nowhere. Well, Exmoor. Facilities include showers, wash up, disposal and recycling facilities, electric hook-ups and hard standing pitches. Dogs are welcome but must be kept on a lead.

Telephone: 01398 371460

There’s more to it than that…

The South West Lakes Trust’s Outdoor and Active centres cater for all kinds of people and offer a lot more than just sailing. At some of the lakes, which are located throughout Devon and Cornwall, you can try wakeboarding, fishing, climbing and even WOW balls, which are like hamster wheels.

If you have a team that needs building, a Hen who needs dunking or a Stag who needs cooling off, the Outdoor and Active centres can organise bespoke events and days out for virtually any size of group. So if you fancy building a raft with Mike from accounts, go for it. Just not on the days when I’m capsizing, okay?

More details on all the lakes at swlakestrust.org.uk

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