A lot of my friends hate the idea of camping in the UK. The weather is unreliable, sleep can be patchy, discomfort can be considerable. Camping involves a lot of packing and unpacking and depending on your disposition, you can end up spending a small fortune on equipment which gathers dust for much of the year. However, sitting around the campfire at Nettwood Farm in Somerset last month with a burger in one hand and a glass of wine in the other, children playing in the sunshine, I was reminded why I drag my tent out of the attic each summer. When camping goes well, it is a true pleasure.
Nettwood Farm campsite, in the Mendip Hills near Cheddar Gorge, is relatively small. There are two fields to camp in, the woodland field and the lake view field. We chose the latter which has incredible views over Chew Valley Lake and the surrounding Somerset countryside. Our tents were pitched quite close to the well equipped wash block which had a fridge and decent showers. We were also close to a little playhouse and climbing tower with a slide which all of the children, aged from four to ten, spent many hours playing on.
On arrival, we were warmly welcomed by the owner Debbie who showed us the best place to pitch our tents and later delivered, much to the delight of our sons, our firewood using her tractor. There was a large group of families pitched next to us plus a few other individual tents and caravans but despite this the field felt peaceful and there was never a queue for the toilets, showers or washing up sinks.
If you can’t quite bring yourself to spend a night on a roll mat and the idea of shared toilets fills you with fear, Nettwood Farm has a range of glamping options including a safari tent and a cabin. You can still enjoy all the benefits of camping before retreating to your upmarket accommodation for a comfortable night’s sleep.
As other families with young children will no doubt agree, holidaying with little people is not always (or ever?) a particularly relaxing affair. Sure, it’s an amazing experience exploring the world with your kids if you are fortunate enough to have the means to do so, but there is not a great deal of “down time” for grown ups when children are small and full of energy on holiday. So it’s rather gratifying, when camping, to be able to sit back in a deck chair while the kids run around a field for hours without any need for intervention. We had sufficient space for rounders, cricket and football matches and the eight children in our group made friends with the neighbours so there was a lovely atmosphere.
We enjoyed exploring the woodland at Nettwood Farm. It’s perfect for den building or games of hide and seek and the owners permit the collection of fallen wood for fire pits. There were a few remaining bluebells here and there from what must have been an impressive display in the spring. Just outside the campsite we discovered East Harptree Woods, a Forestry Commission woodland which is also great for a walk.
As well as a trip into Bristol to visit the amazing SS Great Britain (which requires a blog post all of its own), we also made an excursion to Cheddar Gorge (just 8 miles from the campsite). I was slightly disappointed by what we found. There’s no doubting the gorge is beautiful but over the decades some rather dubious car parking decisions have been made resulting in the gorge essentially becoming one long snaking car park with some equally unappealing buildings dotted through it. However, Gough’s Cave and the accompanying audio guide was brilliant, really impressive and informative. We also enjoyed the climb up Jacob’s Ladder and the Cliff Top Walk. The views were lovely and it was perfect for a picnic. If you’re keen to try rocking climbing, Cheddar Gorge is a perfect place to give it a go. There were some easy looking beginner routes as well as some more demanding ones.
As there were 16 of us camping together, I’d booked us a table in advance for our last day at the Castle of Comfort pub, located just a mile up the hill from Nettwood Farm. The pub has a large garden with an impressive play area. With the sun shining, it was very tricky to convince the younger members of our group to get in the car and head up the tedious A303. We ate well at the pub and I was particularly impressed by their generous interpretation of “2 scoops of ice cream”…
Do you love or loath camping with your kids? Let me know in the comments below.
If you’re driving in the UK, make sure you take a look at my post about family-friendly places to stop just off the motorway. It covers everything from play areas to picnic spots, castles to nature reserves.