Sniff in the great outdoors and let little ones explore the countryside, says Claire Spreadbury.
When it comes to holidays, families are often spoilt for choice. There’s the luxury villa escape, the sunshine all-inclusive, the activity break, the holiday park – all tastes and budgets are pretty much catered for.
But there’s nothing like a family escape to the middle of a field, where Wi-Fi isn’t even an option.
My kids have always been keen to go camping, but after trying it out at a festival a few years back, and having to survive the next day on barely any sleep, I was less keen. Camping with grown-ups is one thing, but it’s a whole different ball game with small people.
New research from Booking.com, however, reveals that 50% of us are foregoing our dream destinations in favour of family-friendly spaces, and it’s easy to see why. Back at home, when life feels like a never-ending to-do list, upping sticks and setting up base beneath the stars and surrounded by trees sounds like my idea of heaven.
Swinging in a hammock with the sun on my face, the breeze in my hair and the sounds of birds and my two daughters playing happily in a sandpit, I think this is a holiday that could rival any other, though obviously good weather helps.
We’ve landed at Plush Tents, where 12 yurts are dotted about a field in the middle of the South downs, near Goodwood and Chichester (and West Wittering Beach if you need to find a space with more people). OK, so it’s not exactly camping, but if a posher version gives you a few home comforts and some communal facilities to keep the whole family happy, that’s got to be a good thing, right?
Macca and Louise set this place up seven years ago, and do it for the lifestyle, rather than the money. They live in a yurt with their six-year-old Olivia and wanted to share the experience with everyone else.
There’s plenty to do here. Grab your towels and plunge into the wood-fired hot tub, cook up a storm on the BBQ, and join in with the evening’s entertainment. On our visit, our mouths dropped at sunset, as a sexy stilt-walker (and mum) shortened her legs to transform into a fire-eater one night, dancing with paraffin-doused sticks. Then the next, a kids’ entertainer had us in stitches as she fell all over the floor, cracked jokes and made animal balloons for all the little ones. But it’s also quite nice to just come here and stop.
Kids can roam freely, snuggle up on the bean bags in the tipi, or collect arts and crafts kit and hide away in the hut to paint a masterpiece, make a dream catcher or draw a picture.
Each yurt comes with a really comfy bed (extra mattresses can be plopped on the floor for kids) and a wood burner (which can be lit for you, if you’re not much of a fire starter), plus a gas and/or charcoal BBQ. Be sure to order a delicious – and enormous – breakfast hamper and make your neighbours envious as you rustle up a full English in the morning (adults from £14.95, children from £9.95) and eat it on the rustic old picnic table and benches, made from local timber.
The toilet and shower cubicle has been prettified with circles of tree trunks and inside, it’s pimped up with brass toilet roll holders and vintage soap dispensers. Wood chippings provide pathways across the site and there are trees everywhere, some old, some brand new, all dotted between wild, grassy lands scattered with bluebells, dandelions and daffodils.
The yurts easily sleep four of us. They’re solar powered, but have a charging socket for your phone (though the idea is to get way from the digital world, and there’s joyfully very little reception here).
Within a weekend, I feel almost as relaxed as I do after a full week in the sun. On our final night, we scrawl wishes on pieces of paper, scrunch them up and throw them into the fire one by one. We watch, mesmerised, while they spark, burn and zip up into the night – apparently meaning a wish has been granted by the resident fire fairies.
I wish for more nights like this. More simple pleasures, more nature-inspired activities and more slowing down. Holidays can be so stressful for parents, but camping – or glamping – lets kids enjoy freedom, independence and the great outdoors, while parents can genuinely enjoy a bit of a rest.
Plush Tents is available to book via Booking.com, with upcoming dates starting £110 per night.
Words by Claire Spreadbury, PA