The most beautiful glamping destinations in Surrey
- Credit: The Green Escape
Forget soggy sleeping bags and cold beans; camping is a completely different experience these days – and what many people don’t realise is that, here in Surrey, we have some of the most beautiful glamping destinations in the country. Sebastian Oake explores just a few of the local getaways
Originally published in Surrey Life magazine June 2016
Picture the scene. You’re taking it easy with friends or family in a beautiful corner of the countryside, perhaps a woodland glade or a riverside meadow, backed by a golden sunset. There’s a bottle of fine wine open and you’re checking to see how your evening meal is shaping up on the campfire, the smell of woodsmoke hanging sweetly in the air. In the background is the distant sound of farm animals or perhaps the call of a loitering pheasant.
Later on, you’ll be toasting tasty marshmallows over the embers in the light of a glowing lantern, accompanied possibly by the soft strumming of a guitar, fireside stories or just wide-eyed stargazing as the evening sky begins to twinkle up above you.
Having a field day
If you think that sounds idyllic, you’re not alone. Growing numbers of people are being drawn to the simpler things in life when they book a summer holiday or weekend break – and through glamping they are discovering a whole new category of leisure experience. In short, it’s a bit like camping but without the dampness and the stiff back in the morning; or a little like staying in a holiday cottage but in one that’s been stripped of the clutter and stress of modern living and then lovingly placed in a tranquil location where it’s just you and nature on first-name terms.
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Welcome to the world of bell tents, yurts, tipis, shepherd’s huts, log cabins and a lot more besides, all comfortably furnished with everything you need but still with an authentic rustic atmosphere and a little bit of magic thrown in for good measure. You’ll likely have a fire pit outdoors to cook on and a wood stove inside to keep you cosy while you snuggle down for the night in a bed that’s often more comfortable than what you’d find in many a hotel room.
Think glamping and you might at first think about the West Country or a remote location in Wales but there are now places much closer to home. And three sites that have opened recently show that right here in Surrey there are exciting opportunities for just this type of getaway.
Scenic Surrey spots
In the countryside near Westcott, Joanna and David Seall run Surrey Hills Yurts at Mad Horse Copse. At this picturesque spot, you’ll find well-spaced yurts, each with a wood stove and fire pit and sleeping up to six. There’s also a back-up field kitchen with gas hobs and hot water and in the nearby washroom rustic is taken by the scruff of the neck to meet luxury.
Other highlights at this rural idyll include the farm animals – look out for the Sussex cows, Gloucester Old Spot pigs and chickens – while your hosts also run courses that range from woodcarving to wild-food tasting, and can even arrange horse riding and archery sessions.
“It all began when we bought a piece of land, around 15 acres of meadow and woodland, for our own smallholding,” explains Joanna. “But it’s such a lovely spot that we thought, ‘Why not share it with others?’”
Over near the pretty village of Chiddingfold, Yvonne and Gary Harris run My Cool Holiday, where you can enjoy quirky accommodation that’s definitely worth holding your horses for. The couple have converted a period horsebox mounted on a 1975 Bedford lorry into the perfect living quarters. Affectionately nicknamed Ges, their horsebox sleeps up to two adults and two children and again a wood burner keeps the inside snug. There are cooking facilities and an additional bow-top horse-trailer – Baby Ges – provides a walk-in shower and all the other essentials.
“We did it for ourselves originally,” says Yvonne, “so we could have some fun and glamping trips away. But friends saw it and asked if they could use it and then people started asking if they could rent it, so things went on from there!”
Since then, Ges has become popular with families, couples on a romantic break and even brides and grooms. Although the horsebox remains fully road-worthy, its chosen location is on a friend’s nearby farm. “It’s in a secluded and tranquil position away from it all, tucked up against a wood,” says Yvonne.
Escape to the country
Different again is what’s offered by The Green Escape on the slopes of Leith Hill. Here there are seven shepherd’s huts set within a six-acre National Trust wood with an eco-friendly straw-bale lodge providing a hub for cooking, dining and, if you want, merry-making (there’s even a piano). There is also an outdoor kitchen, fire pits, hammocks, wood-stoves in each hut and a shower cabin.
It’s a package that’s just right for a private group of up to 20 people, as Suki Hitchcock, who runs the site, explains: “We get family reunions, people celebrating birthdays and corporate events. We also offer hen party packages for those who want to avoid the whole drunken nightclub thing.
“Here, there is the privacy of having your own patch of woodland. It’s a beautiful and changing landscape. If people come in spring, there’s a sea of bluebells. If they come later, the foxgloves are out and, in the autumn, fungi start popping up across the woodland floor.”
Close to home
So why has glamping taken off so much? Joanna at Surrey Hills Yurts says: “Many people don’t want to holiday abroad now and have all the hassle of airports. People like camping and this way they don’t have to set anything up. They can leave home with almost just a toothbrush. Suki at The Green Escape agrees: “Glamping appeals to all those people who want to be outside and get close to nature but who don’t necessarily want to do hard-core camping. There’s something very healing about being with nature. When people leave, they leave refreshed.” And over at My Cool Holiday, Yvonne is clear on why her converted horsebox is so popular. “We all live in a crazy world,” she says. “Ges gives people the chance to go back to a simpler life. It’s a laid-back getaway and a chance to unwind.”
And the advantage of choosing an outdoor break in Surrey, rather than say Cornwall or west Wales, is that you spend less time travelling and more time enjoying yourself. You can finish work at 5 o’clock and by 6 o’clock be somewhere special, ready to pour the wine and put a match to the fire.
Winding down and switching off does us all good now and again. But don’t forget, the very first thing that needs switching off on your trip is your mobile phone. For that surely has no place in the woods or meadows.
Congratulations to Long Acres Touring Park in Lingfield who have just been named this year’s winner of the AA Small Campsite of the Year. Set in the Surrey Countryside, Long Acres is a family-owned and run camping park, welcoming caravans, motorhomes and tents. And, new for 2016, are three cosy-looking glamping pods each sleeping four people. See longacrescamping.co.uk
Need to know:
• At Surrey Hills Yurts near Westcott, a June stay for two nights for two people starts at £250. More details at surreyhillsyurts.co.uk
• My Cool Holiday near Chiddingfold offers two nights for two people in Ges the horsebox for £290 in June. More details at mycoolholiday.co.uk
• At The Green Escape at Leith Hill, renting the whole site for up to 20 people for two nights in June starts at £1,300 or £32.50 per person per night. More details at thegreenescape.co.uk
Other options for cool stays
Big Hat Bushcamp, near Chertsey and Godstone
Bushcraft courses in campfire cooking, wild food, navigation and more for families and groups with the option of overnight stays in tipis, tents or woodland shelters. See bighatbushcamp.co.uk
Glamping Holiday, Springbok Farm Estate, Alfold
Bell tents in shabby-chic style with fire pits for cooking. Pre-prepared meals can be delivered to your tent and there is a bar at the nearby seafarers’ residential centre. See glampingholiday.co.uk
Heath Hall Farm, near Thursley
A shepherd’s hut housing a wood stove and kitchen. Outside is a hot tub, barbecue and optional additional sleeping space in The Arc, all on a farm with hens, ducks and geese. See heathhallfarm.co.uk
Lockhurst Hatch Farm, near Shere
A shepherd’s hut with wood stove set on a sheep farm. A farmhouse breakfast is delivered in the morning. See lockhurst-hatch-farm.co.uk
Retro Campervan, Guildford
Restored classic VW camper vans to self-drive to your chosen location. The vehicles are fully equipped with cooking facilities, running water and a sound system. See retrocampervan.com