Camping is something Amanda Wragg doesn’t do, unless there are easy chairs and someone is cooking breakfast.
No one can be immune to the joys of life under canvas, right? Even the most nesh of us embraces the idea of lying under the stars, communing with nature, listening to the rustle and thrum of wildlife at close quarters? Wrong.
I’ve long believed that tents are solely for circuses.
It’s not that I haven’t tried. In various attempts to impress outdoorsy boyfriends down the years I’ve feigned interest – nay passion in camping and subsequently have had to endure wet weekends on damp sites from Shropshire to Scotland.
What’s romantic about trying to fry sausages in the rain? Stumbling over tents pegs to the smelly loo at three in the morning? Quaking with fear as nature raw in tooth and claw squawks and hollers in your ear, the only thing saving you from being bitten a flap of canvas?
However, the last few years has seen a camping renaissance; for the first time camping has overtaken staying in a B&B for the first time, up to six million Brits are doing it regularly and outdoor shops report a surge in profit, while campsite owners are rubbing their hands in glee.
Why? Because it’s cheaper than a mini-break in Mallorca? Given the economic state of the nation and more importantly the state of our bank balances, maybe it’s an attempt to be less profligate. Except that by the time you’ve bought your tent and all the accoutrements you might as well have hopped on a plane to Spain. (I know, I know, once you’ve invested in the kit you’ve got it for life etc).
But I’ve spotted a number of redundant tents for sale on eBay: ‘good as new, been used only twice ..’ which is code for ‘we thought it was a good idea at the time but it turns out my partner would prefer a weekend at Babington House ..’
The halfway house is of course glamping (glamorous camping). The idea is you turn up and your Yurt/shepherd’s hut/teepee is all ready for you (no ridiculous working out the ‘A’ frame in the gloom, swearing) candle-lit, wood stove roaring, sheets turned down. Everything but a suckling pig on a spit! What could possibly be better?
La Rosa campsite near Whitby was one of the first to offer such luxury, albeit ‘low-impact’; I’ve never stayed, but walking round the bunting-festooned trees, tents and colourful caravans is slightly unnerving.
I’m not sure I can release my inner gipsy sufficiently to get it. Everything’s ‘recycled, reclaimed and found’, the showers are in a converted byre, the compost loo in a vintage shepherd’s hut and there’s a roll top bath in an orchard. It’s kitsch, camp and bohemian.
I’m going to glamp, but I’m not ready for La Rosa. Evidenced by how far ahead you have to book, it’s many people’s choice, but too hardcore for a ninny like me who hasn’t slept in anything but a bed in some kind of house with a proper roof in 25 years.
Bivouac is the brainchild of Sam and Beth Hardwick. It’s a love story; boy meets girl, they marry and travel the world. In New Zealand they experienced ‘basic but comfortable’ often communal accommodation where family and good food take precedence and wondered if they could bring the concept back to Sam’s native Yorkshire.
They found the ideal location on the Swinton Park Estate near Masham in North Yorkshire and two years and a phenomenal amount of work later, Bivouac was born.
Choose from yurts or shacks – or for the more sociable (or cash-strapped) the bunkhouse (ideal for cheap and cheerful one-nighters).
But forget any notions you might have of damp, slightly musty canvas. The spacious yurts have fitted carpets for heaven’s sake! And wood stoves, a proper bed, easy chairs and bean bags. Outside there’s an area of decking from which to sit and stare at the stunning 35 mile view to the East Coast. Now that’s what I call camping.
But my overnight of choice involves something slightly more substantial, though to call it a shack is to call Castle Howard a posh gaff. It’s an architect designed, craftsman built structure, roomy, full of light and toasty warm. You’re off-grid here, so cooking’s done on a two-ring stove fuelled with a gas bottle, and all the kitchen gizmos you might need are within reach. It’s open plan – and en suite!
The wood stove heats not only the space but the water; I really didn’t think I’d find myself in a stylish, contemporary bathroom standing under a hot power shower after one of the deepest night’s sleep I’ve enjoyed in a long time.
Six shacks (all private, you can’t see one from another) are on the edge of the woods, within which is miles of exploring. All this and (joy of joys) a rather cool café.
Housed in the main block a short stroll away, it’s a fabulous lofty space full of charm and quirk; old dressers show off nice bits of vintage crockery and the menu is so interesting I want to work my way through the lot.
Bivouac is far more than a bed for a night or two. Learn to make bread and pizzas with chefs Ian and Suzanna, throw pots and find wild food with renowned forager Chris Bax. You can even learn how to horse whisper.
We sat on our veranda under the blackest night with more stars in the inky sky than I think I’ve ever seen and a bottle of chilled white, contemplating the universe before turning in to our tea light lit, toasty shack. Then oblivion.
Birds woke us on a shimmering autumn morning. A trot down to the café, and a plate of scrambled eggs and roast tomatoes on toast and a heart-starting espresso beckoned. Am I converted? I think you know the answer.
Bivouac at Druid’s Temple: Café, Walking & Activity Destination, Luxury Camping Accommodation.
High Knowle Farm, Knowle Lane, Masham, Ripon, North Yorkshire HG4 4JZ. 01765 535020. www.thebivouac.co.uk
Bunk Barn £18 per night; Yurts from £62 per night (sleeps up to 4); Shacks from £85 per night (sleeps up to 7); Hot tub £30 per session.