Tag: Camping

Ready Camps: A night under canvas in Snowdonia


* This week marks National Camping and Caravanning Week. My piece for the Daily Mail was held over but here’s a preview. 

I don’t get glamping.

Indeed, as the black sheets of rains swirled around me on the drive through rural North Wales, I couldn’t find much glamour in a blustery Bank Holiday weekend of camping.

But, with National Camping and Caravanning Week running May 25-31, The Camping and Caravanning Club has a new plan to lure skeptics like me to their sites – Ready Camp.

The concept is simple: a turn-up-and-stay, ready pitched tent sleeping up to six people amid some of Britain’s most glorious scenery. There’s no need for camping equipment or wrestling with guy ropes in a storm as everything is prepared for you.

You simply bring bedding and towels, and stop at a supermarket along the way to stock up on supplies.

Country escape

Ready Camp tents are now available at 17 Club sites around Britain and I had to come to the small, rural site near Baal Lake, Snowdonia [picture above], to test drive the concept with a night under canvas.

“Ready Camp a stepping stone from urban to country life,” said site manager Graham Bland, showing me to my brown-canvas tent.

“It’s a soft option for first-time campers like families and young couples.”

As I unzipped the flysheet I was pleasantly surprised.

The tent comprises two bedrooms with proper beds and an open-plan kitchenette/dining area with a few home comforts, such as a sofa and a microwave oven. There are sockets to plug in electrical devices and WiFi is available at a charge of £2 per day.

You can also hire an electric heater from reception for chilly evenings.

The campsite itself, popular with outdoors types and rail enthusiasts visiting the Welsh Highland Heritage Railway at nearby Porthmadog, was compact and tranquil.

Beyond the bathroom block and laundry facilities, I could hear the sound of a gurgling stream running alongside the pitches. Red kites and buzzards soared overhead as I made myself at home.

“This is our favourite site to work on,” explained co-manager Tina Bland, arriving with teabags from the handy on-site shop.

“I just like the feeling here of being close to nature.”

Local fare

That night, after some home-cooked pub grub and a couple of pints of Purple Moose, a local microbrewery ale, at The Bryntirion Inn, I was feeling more relaxed – despite the steep, two-mile walk back to the campsite.

The clouds had cleared and the stars emerged to bathe the rolling hills in a silvery glow, the outside lights of my Ready Camp tent a beacon in the distance.

So, did the Ready Camp concept convert me?

Well, after a surprisingly snug night under canvas, breakfast on the patio with views of the Berwyn range of mountains and a slap-up brunch the next morning at Rhug Estate, a nearby farm shop with a fine line in local organic produce, I was coming round to the idea of glamping

Maybe I could yet be a happy camper.


Bala Camping and Caravanning Club Site

Rhug Estate, Corwen

Ready Camp

Story of the week: glamping in the Northumberland national park


* I spent a night this week in a living van [pictured above] and this week I’m taking the girls to a hut on Wales’ Llyn Peninusla. In the spirit of glamping for National Parks Week (July 28 to August 3 this year), here’s another camping story from the archives.

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The North of England has a new secret weapon to beat the downpours for a Great British summer of good-value holidays closer to home: pods.

Barrel-like, timber-built camping pods to be precise. They look like a cross a garden shed or a flat-pack frenzy at an IKEA store.

I’ve come to the Bellingham Camping and Caravanning Club site, 17 miles north of Hexham at the fringe of the rural Northumberland National Park, to test drive a pod for the night.

This is the UK’s second camp site to install the pods with the first group of ten having enjoyed a busy season at the Eskdale club site in Cumbria.

In pod we trust

Bellingham’s four pods are clustered together in a tree-shrouded, gated enclosure close to the camp shop and rather handy for what is known in camping parlance as the facilities block.

Inside, my mini-me chalet is functional and utilitarian.

A wooden-framed structure, insulated with sheep’s wool and tiled with weatherproof slates, they can accommodate two adults comfortably, a family with two small kids at a squeeze.

There’s plenty of headroom and enough space to swing a toddler – just.

The Bellingham pods come with two camp beds, two folding chairs and a folding table. They have French windows onto a decking porch and two small LED lights above the beds.

You need to bring pillows, sleeping bags and towels.

The five-and-a-half-acre site is clean and functional with hot showers, a children’s play area and Wi-Fi internet access. The pods arrived ready erected for the new season and are already proving a hit.

But, if you fancy adding one gazebo-style to the back garden, don’t expect much change from £6,000.

Local fare

That evening, as I sit on my tiny patch of decking, a fine drizzle liberally sprinkling my newspaper, I’m joined by fellow podders for the night.

Jaco and Nicola de Villiers from near Cape Town are on a three-week camping trip around Britain, taking in the Lake District, Scotland and Northumberland.

They joined the Camping and Caravanning Club prior to leaving South Africa for access to discounts and information.

“We like the atmosphere of camping, the closeness to nature, but after three nights under canvas, the pod feels really warm and cosy,” they enthuse.

“It’s a good-value alternative to camping when it rains.”

With the campers firing up Calor Gas stoves around me, my thoughts turn to dinner.

Option one: heating up some baked beans from the camp shop. Option two: a 15-minute stroll down to the village in search of a local hostelry.

A steak and kidney casserole and a pint of Black Sheep bitter at the Riverdale Hall Hotel all too inevitably win out and I wander back with a full stomach as the daylight fades over the farmland of the least populated county in Britain.

A hip flask of Jamieson whisky, a good book and a night in my pod await.

Wild night

Around 2am the true joy of the pod becomes apparent. I awake bleary eyed to find black sheets of rain lashing the camp site, gales blowing throaty gusts across the landscape and the kind of chill only brass monkeys appreciate.

The joy of glamping! I flick the switch on the in-pod radiator, crank the thermostat to nuclear and snuggle back under my sleeping back for some serious slumber.

The next morning heralds a brighter, fresher take on the landscape.

On a longer stay I might indulge in some waking, cycling or fishing by hiking along the Pennine Way footpath, which runs past the front gate. Ot try mountain biking around Kielder Water and Forest Park, the largest man-made lake in Europe some eight miles away, or casting off for salmon into the waters of the North Tyne from nearby Hadrian’s Wall.

Alnwick Castle, the fairytale location for the Harry Potter films, is a 50-minute drive; you can catch a culture-fix performance at The Sage Gateshead within 40 minutes.

But, with a train to catch later that day, I satisfy myself with an early-morning sortie to the village of Bellingham, a workaday farming community of stoic, stone-built cottages, village pubs and a traditional village bakery.

Shards of sunlight mark my half-mile stroll along country roads, skipping over a weather-beaten bridge and passing frolicking lambs en route.

Figures from the Camping & Caravanning Club indicates bookings at campsites are up 27 per cent year on year as people look for cheaper, simpler alternatives to the Eurozone’s currency rip-off and the bunfight at airports during half-term week.

Barry and Carole Howard, who run the Bellingham site as franchisees from the Camping and Caravanning Club, report their occupancy is up nearly 30 per cent.

“We’re finding the pods are bringing in a new generation,” says Barry,

“People are discovering that camping has moved on from its traditional image of a field and a tap.”

I was a cynic, too. But after my night in a pod, I may now even carry on camping.

* This story was first published in the Daily Express in 2009. Liked this? Try Exploring Snowdonia in National Parks Week.

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Story of the day: Pod camping in Northumberland


It was a sign of things to come. I should have known recession was digging in when I started picking up freelance stories about posh camping.

It’s nearly four years on now since this story for The Express, but punk camping is still getting coverage in the travel sections.

Strangely, for someone who previously covered adventure travel and exotic adventures in Japan, I quite liked it.

It must have been a dad thing.

Here’s an extract:

I wander back with a full stomach as daylight fades over the farmland of the least populated county in Britain. A hipflask of Jameson whiskey, a good book and a night in my pod await.

At around 2am the true joy of the pod becomes apparent. I awake dewy-nosed and bleary-eyed to find black sheets of rain lashing the campsite, gales blowing throaty gusts across the landscape and the kind of chill only brass monkeys appreciate.

I flick the switch on the in-pod radiator, crank the thermostat to nuclear and snuggle under my sleeping bag for some serious slumber.

The joys of glamping!

Read the full story, In the Lap of the Pods.

What’s the best campsite in Britain? And what angle can I find for a return trip to Northumberland?

Post your comments below.