Can the Camping and Caravanning Club really do glamping?
I’ve been camping in earnest with my family for the past twelve years, almost entirely in the UK, yet this was to be our first camp at a Camping and Caravanning Club site. My camping taste runs to the wilder sites. Places where we can set a campfire or pitch in the heart of the woods. Camping and Caravanning Club sites are more established and run in accordance with the heritage of camping in this country: organised sites, no fires, immaculate lawns and quite involved etiquette involving showers and toilets.
But I’m open to softening my camping practice. These days, Cath and I both work. We live in London, and have to travel through the East London rush hour after the schools let out. Self-sufficient family camping takes prep. It takes time. And we don’t always have time. For me, this is where glamping or the Camping and Caravanning Club’s new offer of Ready Camp tents comes in: for the people who want to test out camping without buying the kit, or who can’t face all the hefting and carrying.
So, on a Friday night, I drove the family through Bank Holiday London traffic to the Norfolk coast and out to the Sandringham Camping and Caravanning site, a large clearing in the woods of the Queen’s estate, to try out their new Ready Camp. We took our sleeping bags, some pillows, towels and toothbrushes, clothes and a barbecue. For once, I was spared the rigmarole of loading the tent, camping chairs, crockery and beds into the car.
Ready Camp is pitched all ready and waiting for you. The tent is a large canvas safari tent made by Les Toiles Cabanon: the thick canvas means it stays cool and dark in a hot morning, and the poles are sturdy and metal. This gorgeous tent is pitched on decking, with an awning under which you can sit on your stoop, drinking beer, if you wish, or you can haul out the dining table and chairs that are provided to eat in the open. The covered balcony is a real bonus, even in the rain.
The kitchen is a two ring hob, microwave, and large trug for you to load the dishes in and take out to the washing area to clean, as there is no sink in the tent.
There were two bedrooms in our tent. One double bed for Cath and I, a canvas partition, then bunk beds for the children. Very comfortable, cool and dark. I wondered if my family might turn soft if they were exposed to any more of this glamping.
Last year, we camped in the Red Squirrel site in the Glencoe valley. Mid-March, snow on the mountains, deer sipping from the river next to the tent.
The Dad of the only other family camping there was ex-military. I mention this so that you understand that I relish the intensity that comes with a wild camp. And so my caveats with Ready Camp come from this perspective:
In Sandringham the Ready Camp tents were pitched among the caravans. I’ve said this before in my book The Art of Camping. Camping and caravanning are like football and cricket, two very different activities that just happened to be played on grass. Part of the allure of glamping is that it is an easy way to get closer to nature. Caravan culture has diverged from that of campers. Diverged quite profoundly. The rest of my family holiday in caravans so I know what I’m talking about.
Ready Camp represents baby steps for the Camping and Caravanning Club as they attempt to reconcile their heritage with the emergent culture of glamping. It may be that they find a mainstream sweet spot for their offering. We had a great time there, the kids playing in the playground, and easy drives to the bracing Norfolk beaches and well-heeled villages. After all, the Abel & Cole veg box and daffodils in a water jug shabby chic of glamping is not for everyone. But I think they will need to find a way of roughing up their glamping pitches a little bit, either permitting fire pits or pointing them in the direction of the woods rather than the awnings of their neighbours.
We stayed at Ready Camp in Sandringham. Prices vary according to time of year and from site to site. We camped on the second Bank Holiday weekend of May and our stay would have cost £335 for three nights, or £264 for a midweek stay. Prices per night at Sandringham vary from £25 in low season up to £85 in high season. Our stay was courtesy of the Camping and Caravanning Club.