Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Tiny Campsites

Over the last few years, and in no small part due to these times of austerity, camping has become fashionable. Helped on by the festival scene tents, sleeping bags and other paraphernalia have jumped out of the specialist shops and into supermarket aisles and even the shelves of trendy boutiques. For those of us who have been extolling the virtues of life under canvas, or at least nylon, for a while now this can be ever so slightly annoying, but the one big advantage is the influx of new guidebooks. Old camping guides were aimed firmly at the caravanner, whose needs and desires diverge greatly from those of us with tents. Now a new breed has arrived, with an emphasis on beautiful and isolated spots, rather than the size of the shower blocks and the availability of electric hook ups.

One such book is Tiny Campsites by Dixe Wills, in which the author lists 75 places to camp that are all under an acre in size. The idea appealed to me, so last week I packed up the family and decided to check out one of his (yes, his) recommendations.

A long haul round London and along the M4 into Wales brought us to Middle Ninfa Farm near Abergavenny, which Dixe lists as his third best site in Britain. It poured down the whole way, which was rather dispiriting. We even had to partake of that great British institution, the in-car picnic. Fortunately the sun came out as we crossed the Severn Bridge, but the still wet conditions meant that my overloaded Golf couldn’t make it up the driveway to the site – this is very definitely a Welsh hill farm. It also explains why, on a 23 acre farm, there is far less than an acre that is flat and available for camping.

No-one was around when we arrived, despite Radio 4 playing loudly from a nearby shed, but a kind note told us to make ourselves at home. The farm has a “main" campsite by the farmhouse, as well as three “remote” pitches. Having already lugged tent and bags up the driveway I opted for the main site, which in reality was a cosy little space in which we were the only occupants, and has stunning views back down the hill. The remote pitches, which we explored later, really live up to their name, and you wouldn’t want to have to carry too much stuff up to them.

The farm, now only home to a few ducks (avid Radio 4 listeners it seems) and two retired, and friendly, horses, is owned by Richard and Rohan. This well-travelled couple (mainly Africa) are enthusiastic and informal hosts, and can provide local information and maps, as well as home-grown veg. The facilities are basic, and rightly so. The one toilet is a long drop, and bottles of filtered water are available on the farm window sill. Apparently there is a cold shower somewhere, as well as, believe-it-or-not, a wood-fired sauna, but we didn’t bother with these.

In fact we didn’t bother with much of anything, apart from enjoying the views and some light exploring. Campfires, so unusual these days, are not only allowed but encouraged; so each night we settled in to watch the light fade and the stars come out. To top it all we were at the start of the Perseid meteor shower, so our evening drinks were accompanied by shooting stars.

Dixe reckons there are two better campsites than this. I can’t wait . . .

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