After April’s visions of family friendly cruising, my travel goggles are back on for this month’s Holiday Dreaming. It’s May and as the weather becomes more summery, my thoughts are turning to camping and glamping, so this month I’m looking at ideas for fun and fabulous places for camping and sleepovers in the UK with the family.
These are campsite, glampsites and sleep-overs that offer a little more than just a pretty view or handy location – they all have some extra entertainment value thrown in too.
Wake to the Sounds of Safari (or Sea-Life)
If, like me, you’ve ever had to drag your kids away from outings to the zoo at the end of the day without having had time to properly explore everything then a camp-over within easy reach of the animals may well be the answer. We first came across this concept in Jersey when visiting the fantastic Durrell Wildlife Park, probably our favourite zoo to date. There you can camp next door to the park and wake up to the sound of monkeys calling the morning and your camping tickets give you unlimited access to Durrell Wildlife Park during your stay. Nor does camping at Durrell mean roughing it – think more glamping pods with wood-burners, loos and plenty of comfort.
Since discovering Durrell I’ve come across several more zoos and wildlife parks that offer camping experiences. ZSL Whipsnade Zoo offers overnight glamping experiences in its purpose built Lookout Lodge next to the White Rhinos. Accommodation, two day’s entry to the zoo, sunset tours and dinner is included for two adults and two children (5-13), with discounts also available on animal experiences.
For those more into aquatic life then how about a sleepover with the sharks at the National Marine Aquarium in Plymouth? What could be more exciting than having breakfast with a whole host of marine life swimming by?
Some camping experiences are organised for private events, such as the sleepovers in the shark tunnel at Sea Life Loch Lomond. Those events can be organised for groups of twenty people. Similarly, Dartmoor Zoo, offer group camp-over nights and activities (again, twenty or more people are required).
Plenty of other wildlife venues are offering one-off sleep-over and camping experiences, usually during the school summer holidays, so do check out your local zoo to find out if there is an animal sleepover happening near you.
Up in the Trees
How much fun would it be to stay the night in a tree? Now multiply that by the excitement you’d feel if you were 5 years old… That’s why I’m including a tree house in this post!
A lot of tree-houses I’ve come across only accommodate two people but not so the tree houses on offer near Machynlleth in Wales. These quirky looking wooden beauties provide tree-top living with room for two adults and up to three children. There’s no electricity so you still have all the romance of camping with a fantastic view and an experience it is unlikely any of the family will forget in a hurry. Better still, prices to stay over in the tree house remain the same both within and outside of school holidays, with a two or three day stay costing £399 for a family regardless of when you stay.
Nights in a Museum
The Natural History Museum sleepovers have been earmarked for a Baby Routes outing as soon as Roo and Beth are old enough to go (and probably when Roo is no longer terrified of the moving T-Rex). The Dino Snores programme is aimed at children from 7-11 and as well as camping over, also includes activities in the museum after the doors have officially closed for the night and the chance to find out what really goes on in the famous London tourist attraction by night. Events get sold out quickly but there are still dates available for summer 2016 – see their website for details.
The Natural History Museum is not the only museum to offer a quirky family camping experience. In London several other venues offer sleepovers for families too, including the British Museum and Science Museum. My favourite is probably the chance to sleepover on the Golden Hind, the replica ship of explorer-come-pirate Francis Drake’s Elizabethan vessel. Children of 6 years and up dress up in Tudor outfits, learn about life on-board and tuck into Tudor food before camping on the Gun Deck! For £45 a person it comes in cheaper than many London hotels!
The museum sleep-over craze is catching on elsewhere in the UK too, so check out your local town’s museums to see if there are any similar sleepover or camping events running a little closer to home.
‘Flamping’ on the Norfolk Broads
Whilst researching itineraries in the Norfolk Broads, a place I’d love to visit properly, I chanced across a boat hire company offering ‘flamping’. What is flamping I hear you ask? Well, it is basically floating camping. They give you a boat to go exploring the wildlife rich environment of the Norfolk Broads in, equip it so it can provide a sleeping platform, basic shelter and loo then you bring some camping kit and sleeping things and head off on a watery adventure that allows you to experience the Norfolk Broads at sunset and sunrise when all the other boat-trippers are tucked up safely on their dry-land beds. Each boat can sleep up to three people and is pretty back-to-basics stuff and given the location, is probably best suited to older families. All the same, it sounds fantastic for a summer camping weekend getting back to nature.
A Night Out under the Stars
Whilst the phrase ‘spending a night under the stars’ usually refers to camping, unless you forgo your canvas covers in reality the stargazing bit only extends until the camp-fire has been snuffed out. Some camp sites are now offering an all-night stargazing view, most notably with the arrival of unidomes – a kind of glamping pod with the option of a transparent roof.
Camp Katur in North Yorkshire goes one step further offering an entirely transparent sided unidome in a woodland setting. If you are keen to watch nature at dawn or shooting stars at night, all without getting out of your covers, then this is the camping place for you. The only downside is that the pods are fairly small meaning this is one for a special one-on-one parent-child getaway than for the whole family (though there are plenty of more spacious options on site).
The Sky Den in Northumberland’s Kielder area is another option. This combines stargazing with tree house, including an incredible wooden roof that can completely open up to allow views of the trees and night sky above you. They have space to accommodate families, pets and even take a baby free of charge! Prices start from £150 per night.
If traditional camping is more your style then Kielder and Galloways in Scotland are both excellent places to experience dark skies, with several camping sites to choose from. Unpolluted by light both locations also offer stargazing camps several times a year, catering to both novices and more experienced astronomers. As these events are aimed principally at adults, it’s probably best to hold off on taking the kids until they are old enough to appreciate it though.
A Really Wild Camp
I’m keeping an eye open this year for local camping events in some special places. The National Trust run a Big Camp event on 16th July 2016 at twenty venues in London and the South East, including Sissinghurst, Cliveden, Osterly Park and the Ashridge Estate. Events include things like camp-fires and marshmallows, den building, night-time walks and wildlife activities.
The Wildlife Trusts are another place to look for exciting events. Local reserves have in the past run all-night family wildlife events, some including camping, where you can go on bat walks, listen out for night-time animals or take a wander at dawn.
Finally, don’t forget all the great family festivals with camping out there geared towards wildlife, outdoors and adventure. Last year we dipped out toes in the water camping at Escape to the Countryside, a small-scale, local family festival in Sussex with lots of rural roaming and farm activity on offer for little people. On a larger scale I’m also keen to go to The Good Life Experience near Chester, which offers plenty of family camping fun with plenty of outdoor pursuits, music and good food and drink thrown in. You may even spot co-founder Cerys Matthews there!
Have you stayed at one of these camp sites or been to one of the festivals or sleep-overs mentioned above? Perhaps you have another favourite recommendation? Please do share your experience below – it’s always good to find new inspiration!
If you’d like me to research ideas for a theme or location you’re looking into then do send me your question/s by email
and I’ll do my best to include it in a future ‘Holiday Dreaming’ feature.