Never one for straightforward camping, Matt Reeder and family find a break in Scotland to their particular tastes.
WITH cocoa in hand and marshmallows slowly toasting over a crackling fire, it was hard to believe I had originally doubted the value of this latest forray into the world of nature.
My fears had been genuine. It was early April and with the memories of a freezing winter still lingering, summer still seemed a very long way off.
The idea of camping at this time of year was, I thought, ridiculous. I mean, why on earth would any sane family willingly risk pneumonia by sleeping beneath the stars during what is, let’s face it, an extremely unpredictable British spring time.
Indeed, even as we were making our way north to the campsite in the Borders of Scotland, I couldn’t help thinking that we had made a mistake.
Sure, the sun was shining, the daffodils were swaying and we were enjoying the best of what spring could offer... but we were going camping with nothing to protect us from the elements other than a sheet of canvas... I was more than a little nervous.
In truth, I have always had something of a love-hate relationship with camping.
While on the one hand, the idea of being at one with nature, sleeping out under the stars and generally getting back to basics has always intrigued me, the flip side of having to go without my home comforts has usually put me off... even in the warmer months of June, July or August.
I class campers in three groups.
There are those outdoor-types who have all the expensive gear, who go away most, if not every, weekend no matter the weather and who could probably make you a sea-faring vessel of some kind armed only with a penknife, some driftwood and three strands of string.
There are those who will religiously go away for two weeks every year with tent and family in tow, spending their annual holiday under canvas at an organised site, knowing there is nowhere else in the world they would rather be.
Then there are people like me. People who think a good game but when it comes to crunch time usually back out and go for a nice cosy cabin, chalet or B&B. We like the idea, but give us the choice between comfort or camping then there is usually only the one winner.
Sleeping bags and camp beds are too uncomfortable, tents are too small and usually let in the inevitable rain, and it is almost impossible to cook up a decent meal on the tiny portable stove.
Add to that all the extra effort in having to pack up the car and having to then remember how to put up and pack away all the equipment and it is easy to see why many (me in particular) give camping a swerve wherever possible.
So as I sat there around the camp fire, now munching on a very hot but tasty marshmallow, watching the children finish off their den and having the time of their lives running about in the wilds of Scotland, I had to admit that I... no, we all... were, what you might call happy campers.
You see this was no ordinary camping experience. There was an explanation as to why this had been such a brilliant trip. A reason why we had not suffered with frostbite and a reason why we had not missed the comforts and delights of home. You see this was not really camping, oh no, this was glamping.
We were guests of John and Ellie Henderson on their Chesters Estate where, thanks to the people at Country House Hideouts they had turned their grounds into a truly beautiful fantasy land of adventure where the delights of outdoor life can be sampled by softies like me, even when there is a chill in the air.
The Chesters Estate consists of seven square kilometres of stunning countryside right in the heart of the romantic Scottish Borders, located on the banks of the River Teviot. The only sounds are from the wildlife and the only scenery of fields, trees and rivers. It truly is an opportunity to escape from busy, everyday life.
John inherited the estate on his 30th birthday, and gave up working in London to move his young family back up north and set about the mammoth task of trying to renovate the once-great house and grounds. An ongoing process, the family were recently documented by the Channel 4 programme Country House Rescue.
By sharing their grounds with the public, and by offering this very different take on the art of camping, they not only provide a great holiday experience, but they also bring in the valuable revenue vital in their restoration efforts.
The brilliant thing about this break for us was that most of the equipment you would usually associate with outdoor living is already on site.
The giant safari-style tents are rooted to the ground, the bedding, duvets and pillows are already in situ and there is even a bothy where you can pick up any necessary supplies before settling up at the end of your stay.
Tent is probably doing the accommodation a major disservice as these are more like a cross between a marquee and a winter lodge. The walls are canvas but the shell inside and the floors are made of wood while there is a rustic table and chairs, wood-burning stove, sink, toilet and food cooler.
The children loved sleeping in the bunk-beds and we had to draw straws over which of them would spend the first night in the snug – a room shut away from everyone else which, as its name suggests, is extremely cosy.
Outside you have a barbecue, a shower – which must be operated by hand as you pump water from a barrel into a bucket above your head with holes in it – and there is even a hot-tub which caused great excitement among the children as they first helped to fill it, then helped set the fire to warm it, and then spent an hour enjoying the delights of a warm soak under the stars.
The Discovery Tent is also an extremely nice touch which demanded hours of our time. It comes complete with myriad of exploring tools such as a microscope, a telescope, bird-watching books and also a pair of binoculars and is situated all on its own just a few metres from the main tent and was a big hit.
There is also power... but with a difference. The site is carbon neutral with a Victorian-style 12-volt system used for lighting with energy-saving LEDs. Electricity is delivered and stored in a car-type battery whose energy is generated by you and your family, with the help of a bicycle hooked up to a dynamo. We were never short of volunteers to pedal for our power when the time came.
Chesters itself soon proved to be the perfect playground. Cars are kept well away, meaning young and old can explore in safety.
There are only ever five or six tents at any one place, meaning your private little colony is buried away in the wilder nooks and crannies, promoting the chances of meeting and greeting the local wildlife.
One of our rambles went on for four hours as we clambered through woods, scampered through daffodils and even climbed the odd hill. And when it was all done, we returned to the tent, fired up the barbecue and enjoyed our dinner watching the sun set.
Away from Chesters itself, we enjoyed trips to Edinburgh and Jedburgh, but our best moments came back at camp.
My fears had very much been allayed as the weather stayed fine throughout the weekend and the facilities on-site were such that not once did I complain about a lack of creature comforts.
Camping? Maybe. Glamping? You can count me in any day.
All prices are per tent (and now include linen) and all tents sleep up to eight people (with a maximum of six adults).
Weekend breaks from £399, mid-week breaks from £345 and a full week from £579.
Reservations and bookings can be made through: www.countryhousehideout.co.uk or telephone 01420 549150