Camping: this summer’s hot holiday

Camping: this summer’s hot holiday

The months of lockdown have left a spectacular pent-up demand for a simple, safe place to relax and breathe. And that place is a field.

Let’s look at some factors. All self-catering accommodation was snapped up as soon as the government relaxed the rules in England on July 4: you won’t find a cottage or apartment in the south-west this summer.

Then, in mid-July, the government doubled the time (from 28 to 56 days a year) that temporary structures could be placed on land without planning permission. Farmers, colleges and stately homes jumped at the chance to open up more land to camping.

And, on July 26, travel to Spain was ruled out unless you self-quarantined for 14 days on return. Spain hosts 18m Britons a year and that left a lot of people looking for a holiday closer to home. On that same day, camping firm PitchUp took 6,100 online bookings for 18,000 customers – double last year’s record for a single day.

The demand has not stopped, with some sites putting full-up signs. And pop-up sites have opened across the country. Dan Yates, founder of PitchUp, says: “A lot of the new campsites are on farms, with large landowners also taking advantage of the new government relief on planning.”

Tarrant Valley camping
Tarrant Valley camping

Indeed. One is Tarrant Valley Camping, Dorset, which knocked up a Wix website and was online from July 20. It provides a portaloo and water for tents and motorhomes for £20 a head and is getting rave reviews – “wild camping at its best.” It will stay open until Sep 11 (53 of the permitted 56 days).

It’s on PitchUp as well, as is another Dorset newbie site, Edwards Farm near Shaftesbury. Also a Portaloo and water site, it is only opening at weekends in its first year, with just 10 spaces. But it rates 9.9 on PitchUp reviews as a ‘back to basics campfire and dog-friendly site,’ says one. At £20 a pitch, it won’t make a fortune. “But it pays for the fencing, keep the place up together and puts a bit of money into the pot,” says farmer Alex Gibbs.

Instagram pages are full of photos of this year’s summer camping, from the back to basics sites through to full blown luxury pop-ups. Another factor in the new camping cool is that with all festivals cancelled this year, there is a glut of unused luxury tents for hire.

The organisers of the Tipi Field at Glastonbury came up with a new idea for their tents: Wild Canvas, a pop-up family friendly site on an eco-farm in Somerset’s Mendip Hills, operating from Aug 13-24. It’s effectively a festival without music: think workshops, communal fires, yoga and stone circles instead. From £100 a night in a Tipi.

When The Sun and Moon Wellness Festival was cancelled this year, founder Scott Douane set up a camping operation at the venue, Plumpton College in The South Downs. There are 60 pitches, bell tents are available to hire, and there are proper toilets and showers in the college. Brilliant.

Camp Hoxton
Camp Hoxton

The London-based Hoxton Hotel group has also been innovative, setting up Camp Hoxton for August only, which is 12 luxury tents in the grounds of Eynsham Hall in Oxfordshire, with private shower, breakfast bags and free bike hire from £185 a night – plus a free hotel stay before Oct 31.

Historically, the camping season runs from May to mid-September, with smaller operators only open at weekends to meet the 28-day rule. Now many are now able to offer midweek stays too.

In Cumbria, farmer Andrea Meanwell is open midweek, and last week added 12 more pitches at Low Borrowbridge Farm, Tebay. “My phone went mad with bookings – camping is proving a big hot this summer.”

She charges £25 for four people for one night, and turns to her 12k followers on Twitter when there’s a cancellation to turn into a new sale: social media is playing a large part in showcasing camping this summer (#campinguk).

But Andrea is aware that wild camping is causing conflict with some residents in Cumbria and Scotland. “It is also one reason why we have decided to put on an official camping site just for this summer at an affordable cost. In the hope people will camp here and not on someone’s land illegally.”

The demand for small camping sites has been a huge relief to owners who lost half their season (May to early September) to lockdown. And the quickfire innovation shown in the sector is encouraging, with more start-ups also finding niches to expand the market, such as Primal Grazing which built a website in weeks, and now delivers BBQ meat boxes to campsites.

Last month Tentshare also launched, a marketplace where you can hire a tent – or hire out your own. Driven by Instagram, it is one of 250,000 new businesses recorded by Companies House since the beginning of the year.

Owner Rebecca Heaps told Metro “I knew that I needed to hit the summer 2020 camping community as early as possible in 2020 to begin the process of growing the business.

“I had a plan ready to go when COVID hit us and changed everything. For me, pausing or halting the business was never an option, the pandemic was an obstacle to understand and then overcome.”

Ultimately, Rebecca believes Tentshare will benefit from the trend for more people to holiday nearer home this year.

Hampshire-based tent event supplier TePee Tent has also jumped into the rental tent business, launching a site and Instagram platform in July. Says owners Sam and Jordan: “We deliver, erect and collect the tepee with full ground carpet, tiki torches, fairy lights, and soft floor cushions. We will also rent out our airbeds and fire pit for a true camping experience. We charge £50 per night but would happily do a deal for longer stays.”

Camping is becoming the success story of British tourism this summer, with more choice, flexibility and panache. Travel journalist Mary Novakovich, just back from a holiday in France, travelled to a site in Sussex and was won over.

“The last time I went camping in this country was 12 years ago in Cornwall when it rained incessantly. This time we’re in a simple farmyard campsite that’s been blessed with fine weather, a glowing full moon and a fire pit that’s been keeping us warm as the night cools,” she posted on Facebook last week.

Mary Novakovich at Fontmills
Mary Novakovich at Fontmills

She was staying at Fontmills Farm, a 140 acre farm that moved into camping six years ago. Tourism is now a vital part of farm diversification and Fontmill has two bell tents for hire, and 30 pitches – tents and small campervans only. It costs just £10 per adult, and £5 a child for a night.

Fontmills farmer Nicola Davis says this year is proving busier than ever, especially during the week: “We were sceptical about how the season was going to go at first – but it’s going very well. We are busier than ever, especially in the week.

“Everything is working out OK and we’re practically full until the end of August. People aren’t going abroad – and they are just so pleased to get out and for the children to have space to run about in a field.”

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Steve Keenan has been a travel journalist for 25 years. He started at a Reed paper, news editing at Travel News in London - now Travel Weekly - having spent a decade reporting general news in the UK and abroad. He also taught English in Peru, delivered cars in the USA, ran the Sydney desk at AAP and took the train home from Hong Kong. He left Travel News in 1990 to freelance for several publications, including The Times of London, which he later joined as deputy travel editor. In December 2004, he became the first national digital travel editor in the UK, running the combined travel website of The Times and Sunday Times. The introduction of a paywall at the papers in 2010 persuaded him that the connected world might continue outside of Wapping and he left to co-found Travel Perspective. The company runs the social media seminars at World Travel Market London, and works with Reed Expos and others in helping the travel and tourism industry best communicate stories in all forms of publishing.

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