10 Great Camping Weekends In Britain
Weekends are precious so make the most of yours with these 10 ideas for great camping short breaks in the UK.
1 HIT THE COAST
Camping is good for the soul… and a weekend camping by the coast is even better. There’s something about breathing in the sea air and getting sand between your toes that just makes you feel so much better. In the UK, no-one lives more than 80 miles from the coast, so it’s not surprising that thousands of us head for the seaside every weekend. Britain’s coastline is dotted with wonderful campsites – some perched at the top of towering cliffs with spectacular sea views, others just a couple of minutes’ walk from glorious sandy beaches. Either way, you simply can’t beat dropping off to sleep in your tent with the sound of the sea in the background. Cornwall, Devon, Wales and North West Scotland are all popular coastal camping destinations, but North Norfolk, with its big skies, big beaches and a plethora of great campsites, might just be our favourite.
WHERE TO CAMP
Norfolk, Burnham Deepdale, Norfolk PE31 8DD
A short walk from the beach and harbour of Brancaster Staithe and Burnham Deepdale and an easy drive to the rest of North Norfolk’s wonderful coast, this is a lovely campsite that is almost exclusively for tents and very eco-friendly. On your doorstep is Dalegate Market – a series of independent shops and pop-ups, various eateries etc and there are numerous events throughout the year, including the site’s own music festival. Within about 400 metres you’ll be at the White Horse – a pub with restaurant and views across the salt marshes to Scolt Head and a bit further up the coast road you’re at the Jolly Sailors – a traditional 18th-century Norfolk pub.
2 LONDON WEEKEND
London is one of the world’s great capital cities and as a global tourist attraction it has few equals. You might not instantly think of it as a camping destination, but there are actually quite a few sites around the outskirts of the city and closer to the centre too. And with London hotels charging eye-watering rates, it’s an affordable way to see the capital. Arrive on a Friday evening and spend a couple of days exploring. Of course, if you’ve never visited before, you need to see the major tourist attractions like Buckingham Palace, the Tower Of London, Downing Street and Big Ben. But if you’ve already ticked them off your list, then there are loads of other places to visit and things to do for a perfect weekend. Here are a few suggestions:
WHITE WATER RAFTING
The white water rafting course at Lee Valley White Water Centre was devised for the Olympics but you don’t have to be an Olympian to take it on – just be prepared for a soaking! It costs £150 for a family raft that holds two adults and up to three kids over the age of 14 (10 for the non-Olympic course). You’ll need to set aside about three hours in total for this, but it’s only a few minutes’ drive from the Lee Valley Sewardstone campsite so it makes sense to book it for first thing on Saturday morning. It’s a real adrenaline rush and a brilliant way to get your weekend up and running.
EMIRATES AIR LINE
This astonishing cable car is designed to give you a whole new view of London. Your fare includes a return ‘flight’, a guide and entry to the Emirates Air Line Discovery Experience, a fascinating mini museum on the south side. The trip over the water is quite exhilarating as you rise steeply to 300ft above the Thames.
GO BARGAIN HUNTING
Old Spitalfields is London’s oldest market and it’s as popular today as its ever been. It’s actually a series of markets and depending on when you visit there are special events on as well, such as the independent record label and London brewers markets. At the daily market you’ll find over 70 retail stalls and street food traders and the surrounding area is full of hipster shops.
HAVE AN AUTHENTIC CURRY
A short walk away from Old Spitalfields, Brick Lane is famous for its Indian restaurants and it now also has a reputation for its warehouse art exhibitions and trendy clubs and bars. Sunday is the day for the Brick Lane market where street performers mingle with the bargain hunters.
HIT THE STREETS
By far the best way to discover London’s secrets is on foot, especially if you have someone to tell you the hidden stories behind the sights. Discovery Walks offer a wide range of London walking tours, including Dickens’ London, Shakespeare's Lost City, Harry Potter Film Locations, The Beatles’ London, plus the ever popular Jack the Ripper Tour.
GREENWICH MEAN TIME
Catch a river boat from central London to Greenwich where you can spend a fun-filled family day. The area is home to loads of historical landmarks and attractions. The famous tea clipper Cutty Sark is an essential visit, then take in the brilliant National Maritime Museum and the Royal Observatory, where you can stand astride Prime Meridian Line with a foot in the both the east and west hemispheres.
The Warner Bros studio tour at Leavesden, near London, takes you behind-the-scenes of the Potter series – allowing fans to see the original sets, props, animatronics and costumes created for the movies. Even if you’re not a fan, there is something special about the moment the big doors of the Great Hall open and you step inside. For the next few hours you can immerse yourself in the world of Hogwarts, as well as Harry’s family home on Privet Drive, the triple decker Knight Bus and the famous flying Ford Anglia. You can even enjoy a Butterbeer in one of the studio cafes.
WHERE TO CAMP
LEE VALLEY SEWARDSTONE CAMPSITE
Sewardstone Road, Chingford, London E4 7RA
A great site for easy access to London is the Lee Valley Campsite, at Sewardstone. Located outside of London’s Low Emissions Zone, you can be in central London within 30 minutes via public transport. Lee Valley Campsite is set within rural countryside where you can enjoy 1,000 acres of the River Lee Country Park. There are 86 pitches, as well as glamping pods, and site facilities include toilets and showers, a laundry, licensed shop and Wi-Fi.
3. GO UP IN A BALLOON
BRISTOL BALLOON FIESTA
This year, Bristol Balloon Fiesta runs from 9-12 August at Ashton Court Estate. It's free, and offers four days of brilliant family fun. The Mass Hot Air Balloon Lift, Night Glow, and Firework Finale are supported by a programme of arena events, side stalls and children's fun and games. The car parks fill up, so they recommend booking your parking space in advance. There are model hot air balloon competitions and stalls offering a wide range of tantalising goodies - sample chilli salsas, wine, or fancy oils. Try some cake, or buy some artisan dog biscuits for your pooch! There are charity stalls, flight simulators, inflatable slides, sweet stalls, licensed bars, and exotic takeaways. Kids will probably head straight for the fairground.
WHERE TO CAMP
BROKERSWOOD COUNTRY PARK
Brokerswood , Westbury, Wiltshire BA13 4EH
Set in five acres of sheltered grassland adjoining an 80-acre woodland country park, this campsite offers a multitude of walking trails. Children will love the two adventure playgrounds and narrow gauge railway. Adults will enjoy the fishing lake and the scenic picnic areas dotted about. For the active family, as well as a host of woodland trails there are also regular activity days which are held to give people the chance to try things like bushcraft, willow weaving and archery. The camping area is tucked away within the country park, surrounded by trees yet close to Bath and Salisbury. The country park has been awarded the David Bellamy Gold Conservation Award for 10 years in a row and there’s a host of wildlife to look out for.
4. ENJOY A FESTIVAL
JUST SO FESTIVAL, CHESHIRE
If the thought of traditional music festivals fills you with dread, then this might change your mind for an alternative family weekend. The award-winning Just So Festival is a bonkers weekend-long camping festival for children and their families, where the focus is on imaginative outdoor adventure rather than big name music acts. It showcases art, music, literature, comedy and theatre for families all set in a rural landscape of woodland clearings, parkland, arboreal amphitheatres and lakeside spots in the Rode Hall Estate, Cheshire. Now in its ninth year, the 2018 programme (17 – 19) August features the usual eclectic mix of regional, national and international artists and performers. Organisers promise to take you on an “expedition of mischief and mayhem, to lands full of magical midnight feasts, raucous pillow fights, tribal tournaments, curious creatures and breathtaking beauty”. It’s all great family fun.
5 GAZE AT THE STARS
GALLOWAY FOREST PARK
Galloway Forest Park in south west Scotland was the first location in the UK to hold Dark Sky Park status and one of only six in the world. Star-spotters flock here all year round to take advantage of the fact that there’s so little light pollution. Its 300 square miles of virtually uninhabited hill, heath, forest and loch means there is very little light pollution, and the frequent rain there cleanses the air helping to make the Forest one of the best places to see the universe. You should be able to spot more than 7,000 visible stars, the Andromeda Galaxy, the Milky Way and the Aurora Borealis with the naked eye. For those who want go on a star hunt, the Forestry Commission lists many viewing sites within the park and recommends places for setting up a telescope. There are numerous astronomy-related programmes and activities held in the Forest, such as Stargazing for Beginners and a Meteor Shower Watch, so with good binoculars or a telescope the sky’s the limit! Regular readers will know that we love this part of the country… it’s a hidden gem, boasting sandy beaches, rocky coves and quaint fishing villages, the Galloway Hills and hundreds of square miles of forestry and gently rolling countryside. A little further afield, you’ll find Ayrshire and Dumfriesshire, both of which offer lots of family activities for your weekend away.
WHERE TO CAMP
South Balfern, Kirkinner, Wigtownshire DG8 9DB
Located at the end of a long and winding road, Drumroamin Farm is a long way from everywhere. And that’s what makes it special. The site is flat and enjoys views out over Wigtown Bay and the hills on the other side of the water. The facilities block is superb and spotlessly clean at all times – as well as the gents and ladies showers, there’s a family shower room and a washing-up room that doubles as a laundry. Next door, there’s the playroom, with a pool table, TV, two comfy sofas, a library and dining tables, plus loads of information on the local area. For the kids there’s a small playpark and a covered sandpit, as well as all that space. It’s also a favourite destination of stargazers.
6. A WEEKEND AT THE RACES
HAYDOCK PARK RACECOURSE
The thunder of hooves, the roar of the crowd and the occasional thrill when your chosen horse comes in, makes the races an exhilarating experience. With a choice of 59 racecourses to choose from, ranging from Perthshire to Devon, there are plenty to choose from. And believe it or not, several of the UK’s racecourses actually have adjoining campsites, with many of them allowing you to pitch right by the edge of the track, or in some cases, slap bang in the centre of the course. Often you can take advantage of discount entry to the race meeting, but book in advance if you want to camp on race days as the site will almost certainly fill up. Another option is to camp at a site near the course and just walk, drive or take public transport in on race day. You might not get the full-on experience of being able to watch the horses roar past your tent but it does allow you to make a weekend of it. Whichever option you go for, the British Horseracing Authority lists all the meetings taking place across the country throughout the year, so it’s easy to plan where and when you want to go. With 32 meetings a year, many of them on Saturdays, Haydock Park in Merseyside gives you plenty of options. The seaside resort of Southport, around 45 minutes away, makes a great base and allows you to combine your day at the races with an enjoyable weekend. Arrive at the campsite on the Friday after work, pitch your tent and enjoy a relaxing evening barbecue on site or head into the town where there are numerous restaurants and bars. Head over to the racecourse at lunchtime on Saturday, spend your afternoon cheering on the horses and be back at the site in time for dinner. Spend Sunday having a relaxing wander around Southport, or head out along the coast to Crosby beach and see the amazing ‘Another Place’ sculptures by Antony Gormley. Liverpool is a 45 minute drive away or under an hour on the train.
WHERE TO CAMP
CENTURY HOUSE CAMPSITE
100 Turning Ln, Scarisbrick, Southport PR8 5HZ
A small Camping and Caravanning Club certificated site on a farm, within easy reach of Southport by car or bike, or even on foot if you’re feeling energetic. This is real back to basics stuff but what it lacks in facilities (you won’t find a shop, clubhouse or playground here), it makes up for with the friendly welcome you get from the owners. The shower block is limited in size but is clean and modern, there’s a washing up sink (cold water only) and there’s plenty of space to spread out on the flat, grassy camping field.
7. BONFIRE WEEKEND
Lots of campsites celebrate Guy Fawkes Night with their own bonfire and firework displays on the weekend closest to 5 November. So why not wrap up well and make a weekend of it, with a spot of late season camping. Even at this time of year, sites can be busy for bonfire night events so it makes sense to book in advance, especially if you want an electric hook-up. Organised displays are generally safe but it’s always wise to drum it into youngsters that they need to be careful around fires and fireworks. It’s all down to common sense. If they are likely to be upset by loud noises, take ear protectors. One of the joys of camping is being able to take your dog on holiday, but this is one time when you should consider leaving them at home, preferably with friends or family.
WHERE TO CAMP
Coach Road, Golden Valley, Riddings, Nr Alfreton, Derbyshire DE55 4ES
Golden Valley’s huge firework display takes place on Saturday 3 November at 7.30pm, with an onsite cafe/bar serving a variety of refreshments, an upstairs disco and children’s amusements. This is a large and well-run site with lots of facilities that caters for caravans, campervans and tents. Set in 26 acres of woodland the site has toilet and shower facilities that are kept clean and tidy and separate areas for tents and caravans. Tents are on grass pitches and caravans have hard standing and both can get electric hook-ups if needed. Also on site you will find three play areas, a fishing pond, a bouncy castle, a train ride around the park. There is also a camping accessory shop and Wi-Fi.
8. TAKE A HIKE
Pack your tent, your sleeping bag and your walking boots and head to the hills for a weekend of walking. And there’s nowhere better than the wonderful mountain and moorland upland of the Yorkshire Dales. Everyone has their own favourite Dale and it attracts tourists all year round, with mountain bikers especially adoring the range of possibilities it offers them. Even if you don’t want to exert yourself too much, there is no end of attractions, including wonderful rivers, waterfalls and viewpoints. However, the best way to appreciate this part of Britain is on foot – for this is prime walking country and it’s a brilliant place to spend a weekend. Hidden tracks take the walker over moorland tops, quiet lanes take the adventurous driver across high level routes with awesome views, and then there are the towns and villages with the likes of Settle, Hawes, Richmond, Grassington, Buckden and Kettlewell (to name but a few) being must-visit destinations during your stay. Find yourself a campsite with good links to the surrounding countryside. Langcliffe Park a mile north of Settle, at the gateway of Upper Ribblesdale is ideal. It’s perfect for walking straight into the nearby hills for a five-hour, with plenty of route choices. The scenery is magnificent, as is the wildlife up there. Settle has plenty of pubs and eateries. Plus, there’s the thriving Victoria Hall, where you can see all types of bands in the evenings. Spend Sunday on the Dales for a second day of walking, or explore the nearby town, the home of the famous Settle to Carlisle railway.
WHERE TO CAMP
Settle, North Yorkshire BD24 9LX
01729 822 387
This is a peaceful and relaxing site set in the Dales, just a mile from Settle town centre. As well as being a lovely spot to chill-out, it’s the perfect base for exploring the Dales on foot. There’s no bar or clubhouse, but the facilities include toilets, free hot showers, washing up area, disabled facilities, and a launderette. There is also a children’s play area within sight of the camping field and you get free Wi-Fi.
9. TAKE A TRIP BACK IN TIME
A weekend in the North East has to feature a day at Beamish, an amazing open air, ‘living museum’ set in 300 acres of countryside that tells the story of life in the area since the 1820s. Costumed folk bring to life the town, pit village and farm and you get to experience first-hand how life in the region has transformed over the last 200 years as a result of the Industrial Revolution. You can take a ride on a tram, have fish and chips at Davey’s and a pint at the Sun Inn. It really is a fantastic family day out. On Sunday, head to Durham, a lovely city with plenty going on. The first stop for any visitor has to be the cathedral. Built in 1093, it dominates the city centre, looming over the medieval buildings below. It is considered to the finest example of Norman architecture in England and one of the greatest in Europe. Along with the nearby castle, the cathedral has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and it truly is an awe-inspiring sight. There's a wealth of other tourist activities in the area, including Hartlepool Quay (12 miles away) a recreation of an 18th Century seaport and home to HMS Trincomalee, said to be the oldest ship afloat in the UK. Raby Castle is one of the largest English medieval castles. It's set in front of a lake and features all manner of towers, turrets and walls in a mixture of styles. A little further away you’ll find the Metro Centre at Gateshead, which offers a great retail therapy fix. The stunning Angel of the North is 16 miles away, while walkers should head to Hadrian's Wall, which is 25 miles away.
WHERE TO CAMP
BOBBY SHAFTO CARAVAN PARK
Money Hills, Beamish, Co Durham DH9 0RY
Named after an 18th Century MP who was the subject of a famous North-East folk song, the site is set in a secluded position with panoramic views of the area. You can enjoy the peace and quiet of the countryside here, but also be close to the attractions of the area. Facilities include a heated amenity building with showers, dish washing and veg prep area, and a laundry. Also a children’s play area, family bar and pool room. There is also an on-site shop selling the basics.
10. HAVE A BREAK WITH PALS
One thing we’ve noticed on our camping trips recently is the number of people camping together in groups. Pitching up with a gang of family or friends seems to be a growing trend and we’re all in favour of it. It allows you to meet up at a central point without having to worry about how to cram visitors into spare bedrooms – and the kids can enjoy themselves while the adults get on with the serious business of socialising. Choose a site where pitches are not regimented and there’s lots of space available. And obviously make sure in advance that larger groups are allowed. An event shelter makes a brilliant communal space to enjoy a drink and a natter, whatever the weather. If space allows it, set up your tents in a circle with the openings facing the centre and create an enclosed space using windbreaks. But again, make sure you check in advance with the campsite that they’re happy for you to pitch your tents and shelters together like this. The potential problem is that groups could get a bit rowdy and loud late at night, but we know Camping readers are all responsible and good camping neighbours! And in any event, good site wardens should be able to nip any problems in the bud before they get out of hand.
WHERE TO CAMP
HIGHCLERE CARAVAN AND CAMPING PARK
Highclere Park, Newbarn Lane, Seer Green Buckinghamshire HP9 2QZ
This site close to London is easy to get to, has loads of space for kids to run themselves ragged and excellent facilities and a friendly atmosphere. It’s also really convenient for visiting local attractions. The site is in a peaceful, rural location close to the upmarket village of Chalfont St Giles but London is just a half hour train ride from nearby Seer Green and Jordans station. Tents are pitched around the edge of a large grassy field with a kids play area in one corner and the washing up facilities and toilet block in the other. In the middle of the field is a football pitch with goals and loads of empty space for the youngsters to run around. The facilities were also top notch – 18 hot showers, family bathrooms, individual toilet cubicles, a TV room/kitchen, a laundry, shop and Wi-Fi.