Wild camping in Kent: 8 places to pitch your tent

Star Field is a small seasonal site set on a working farm in Cranbrook (photo: Manu Palomeque)

Star Field is a small seasonal site set on a working farm in Cranbrook (photo: Manu Palomeque) - Credit: Archant

Put away your digital devices and get back to nature with a few nights under canvas and the starry night skies this summer.

Kent's campsites are increasingly popular and a great way of spending quality time outdoors with the family, but large, busy sites with clubhouses and swimming pools aren't for everyone. While genuinely wild camping is illegal without the landowner's permission in most parts of England, there are plenty of enthusiasts who crave the freedom of sleeping out in the wild. Small, off-grid sites offer their guests a chance to truly switch off from modern life and relax in a natural setting.

Whether you're looking for total seclusion in the woods or to make a few new friends around the campfire, these sites range from simple clearings with no facilities at all to something a little more comfortable for those who shudder at the thought of going without a shower.

With lazy days spent pottering through summer meadows, and peaceful evenings toasting marshmallows, it's not only great for your mental health, but it's also cheap, environmentally friendly and great fun too.

1. Pete's Field @ Cole Farm, Paddlesworth

Cole Farm, Teddars Leas Rd, Paddlesworth CT18 8AD

A pop-up campsite launched last summer, Pete's Field is in the tiny hamlet of Paddlesworth on the Kent Downs. The field is six acres but only allows only 20 tents, alongside their own four pre-pitched bell tents.

As a temporary summer site, the facilities are basic, but bucket showers cubicles, handcrafted by the eponymous Pete, allow campers to shower under the trees and have proved one of the site's highlights. Campfires are positively encouraged here, and along with the west-facing field's spectacular sunsets, make for a magical experience each evening.

2. Welsummer Camping, Harrietsham

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Chalk House, Lenham Rd, Harrietsham, Maidstone ME17 1NQ

Offering both camping and glamping, Welsummer is set on a smallholding near Harrietsham.

Here there is the option of pitching in the grassy meadow or, for the more adventurous, in the woods. A small toilet and shower block and a little shop selling camping essentials make this site a more luxurious choice than some of the others.

Owner Laura Benaggoune says: "Our ethos is based on a long-standing love for untamed nature. We wanted to share that with families who want to experience bare feet in long grass and switch off from city life in a really beautiful, down-to-earth setting."

3. Badgells Wood, Meopham

White Horse Rd, Harvel, Meopham DA13 0UF

Set in a 30-acre corner of a sprawling forest on the Birling Estate, Badgells Wood has several pitches spread out in the woods, ranging from small, secluded spots to larger clearings allowing groups to pitch together.

The name of the game here is exploring the woods, climbing trees and taking to one of several rope swings. There are bushcraft sessions at the weekends, free-roaming chickens and a local farm shop for all the essentials.

It's easy to think this is truly wild camping, but there are a few creature comforts, too: the wooden ablutions block offers hot showers, and there are composting toilets dotted around the woods.

4. Star Field, Cranbrook

Swattenden Ln, Swattenden, Cranbrook TN17 3PS

Launched last year as Charity Farm Camping but rebranded now as Star Field, this little seasonal site is set on a working farm in Cranbrook, along with a country store and farm shop.

The four-acre field has a maximum of 15 pitches, along with a pre-pitched bell tent. Composting toilets and hot showers are provided.

Owner Debby Clarke says: "Star Field is a natural camping field, home to many species of wildlife. It's nestled in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and next to an ancient woodland; the perfect place to renew your energy and escape the stresses of everyday life."

5. Woodsman Kent Wild Camping, Pluckley

Pluckley, Egerton, Ashford TN27

By far the wildest of our suggestions is this single-pitch operation based in a forest near Pluckley. Woodsman Kent is exactly as it sounds, completely wild camping on the forest floor by permission of the landowner.

With no facilities at all - not even a toilet - it's daunting for some, but this adult-only site is all about reconnecting with nature and implementing your bushcraft skills.

Turn off your phone (there's no signal anyway), light a campfire, cook up some sausages and relax. There's no parking, but a public car park can be found 15 minutes away.

6. The Sunny Field, Stelling Minnis

The Sunnyfield, Maxted Street, Canterbury CT4 6DH

This larger site is all about rustic camping in a pristine meadow, with composting toilets and cleverly converted horsebox showers.

Offering spacious pitches spread out across eight acres of land, it has a wild feel without being too basic.

Perfect for first-timers or those with young children who don't want to go too far from civilisation, there are touches of luxury in the form of a horsebox coffee bar, straw bale breakfast café and a wood-fired pizza oven.

7. Clifftop Camping, Eastchurch

Spiders Castle Farm, Plough Rd, Eastchurch, Sheerness ME12 4JL

Set on the Isle of Sheppey, this site is a real find. It offers 100 acres of coastal farmland for wild camping, much of it with stunning views of the Thames Estuary. Choose from secluded pitches on the clifftop itself, at the paddock, beside the lake or in the woodland. With farm animals to meet, fresh eggs to buy and beaches perfect for fossil hunting, it's also not far from Elmley National Nature Reserve. Facilities are minimal, with a composting toilet situated between the main camping fields.

8. Strictly Camping, Pembury

Woodlands Farm, Hastings Rd, Pembury TN2 4BL

Perfect for fans of old-fashioned camping, Strictly Camping is one of Kent's hidden gems.

Set in woodland just outside Tunbridge Wells, it offers 15 pitches, either spread throughout the woods themselves or in the open field with views of the horses and ponies.

There's also a covered area for socialising, as well as toilets and showers. Campfires are encouraged, and the area is great for off-road cycling.

Nearly wild camping tips:

- Know what to expect. Read up on the site's facilities (or lack of them) so you don't get a nasty surprise when you arrive.

- Campfires are encouraged at these sites, but make sure you pitch your tent a safe distance from the fire and always be careful with children around.

- Slow down. Everything takes longer than usual when you're camping with little or no facilities, so just go with the flow.

- Leave no trace. Take bin liners and make sure you dispose of all your rubbish correctly. Some sites will have bins and recycling points; others will ask you to take it home.

- Stick to the Countryside Code while out and about.

- Amy Woodland, from Pete's Field Camping, shares her top tip for off-grid camping. She says: "I think getting a good night's sleep is the key to a great camping trip. Invest in a good sleeping bag and take extra blankets so you won't get cold. I like to take a hot water bottle too. Then, as the campfire is dying down, I boil a kettle, fill my bottle and look forward to getting cosy. After a good night's sleep, waking up with the birds is nothing but a pleasure."