Monday, 26 August 2013

Summer camping

We've visited a few new campsites this summer. First up was Searles Holiday Park in Hunstanton.

The pitch we booked was a mains serviced pitch, which had a hedge surrounding the pitch, 16 amp electric hook up, TV point, private water point, and private waste point. We were advised the pitch was 10x8 feet in size, on arrival we were fairly sure the pitch wasn't that size (some were but ours was one of the smaller ones), but our tent fit the space (just) and we had the privacy we wanted. The kids spent most of their time at the local park (when not being picked on by older children) and the rest of their time was spent riding their bikes and scooters up and down the holiday park roads. They had a lot of freedom to explore in safety, which was lovely. We visited the restaurant on the first night (food was OK but nothing to write home about), and we also swam in the indoor and outdoor pools (adequate, although the changing rooms weren't very good). Showers and toilets were clean and we never had to queue.

Hunstanton was a nice town, a bit run down in places but some areas were lovely. Plenty of coffee shops and cafes to choose from. We walked from Searles along the seafront to the centre of town and then back again, about 3 miles in total but easily managed by my kids. There is a good beach, a fun fair, a Sea Life centre, and a leisure centre along the seafront walk. At the entrance to Searles is a Tesco that stocks most camping supplies. Overall, the site was adequate but we wouldn't go again.

Our second camping trip was to Pillaton Hall Farm in Staffordshire, between Penkridge and Cannock. We've visited this site before and it didn't disappoint (apart from the stormy weather!). We choose two adjacent electric pitches within view of the children's play park and we had plenty of room and privacy. Since our last visit the owners have built a second play park for younger children. This one was nicknamed "The Sand Park" by my kids because it was completely covered in play sand. As a result, my kids had been banned from The Sand Park by the second day of our trip. The toilet facilities appear inadequate for a site of its size, only four showers for ladies and five toilets (in the main block; four other toilets were available around the site). However, I never had to queue for a shower, and only for a minute or two for the toilet. More consideration for fellow campers would've helped in that respect (some parents weren't very aware of what their children were up to). The toilet facilities weren't kept especially clean, again that was down to inconsiderate campers rather than the site managers. The site managers were very visible on site, rather militant with respect to BBQs and campfires. If you're not cooking on a fire you can't have one at all (they say). Just make sure you burn charcoal and not wood, and have some sausages handy.

During our stay we visited Coalport, the location of some Ironbridge Gorge museums. We had another trip down the Tar Tunnel and a walk around the Jackfield Tile Museum. We had a great meal at the Half Moon pub on the River Severn. Instead of revisiting Blists Hill Victorian Town, we spent a very wet day at the Black Country Living Museum, where we also had a trip on the Dudley Canal through the tunnels. I finally got my wish to visit Lichfield, and we had a walk around the cathedral and Dr Johnson's birthplace.

Our third trip was to another new site (for us), Wellington Country Park, which is located between Reading and Basingstoke. It had been recommended by a colleague of my husband, and proved worthy. By camping at the park we had full access to the park during the day, and once the park closed to the public we could use the facilities that were open (the adventure playground, the miniature golf, nature trails, and the play trails). We made full use of our stay and visited all areas of the park. We particularly enjoyed the deer park walks.

We paid for a premium electric pitch, which afforded some privacy (although we were on the road and were woken up on two mornings by small children climbing the trees behind our tent -- sad that some parents aren't aware what their children are up to at 7am). The pitch had no grass but was shallow earth and bark; we'd been advised to take rock pegs. We used the barest minimum to pitch because of the shelter afforded by the trees, but we lost almost all of them once we decamped.  Shower facilities at the campsite weren't the best, only three for women, and there were long queues every morning. The toilets also weren't kept very clean. There were very good washing-up facilities though (one plus point). There was no campsite play park for the kids (not that they needed one, with all the woods to explore); they could ride their bikes around the campsite (not the park though except after hours). We might return to this site because of the location, there are plenty of attractions in the area (we visited Hartley Wintey, Wokingham, and Bagshot, with Silchester Roman City on the list for next time). I'll just time my shower a bit better!

Our final camp was over the August Bank Holiday weekend. It was our annual Family Camp, and we'd booked with Brook House Farm at Crew Green (between Shrewsbury and Welshpool) in January to have three electric tent pitches, a shepherd's hut, a camping pod, and a room in their B&B. That's a lot of people! We turned up to discover the electric tent pitches weren't electric and weren't pitches either (an unmown, uneven, stone strewn, hole-covered sheep field). The shepherd's hut had also been double-booked and was unavailable. The owner was rude, unapologetic, and unhelpful, seemingly unaware of her responsibilities once you've taken a booking. She also went out onto the road to continue her abusive shouting after we had to park up nearby to do some online research and ringing around. What a nightmare woman! Not a site to be recommended at all (I will not post a link to the website, google if you like, but the website is deceiving).

After much ringing around I managed to secure three tent pitches at a campsite near Market Drayton, called Abdo Hill Farm. The owner went out of his way to help us, providing one of the pitches with an electric extension so we could at least blow up everyone's camp beds. Once we arrived we managed to sort out rooms at a B&B across the road, so we reaccommodated everyone. Relief all round!

The site was fairly new but had very good facilities nonetheless. The toilet and shower facilities were mixed sex, two toilets and two showers, a temporary solution for now until the owner can build separate facilities for men and women. They were kept very clean. There was a large play area for the children, which was superb, I rarely saw my two, they made a lot of friends there! The owner, Paul, lives on site behind the playground and is very visible walking around, talking to guests, and making sure everyone is happy. We had many long chats with him, he's got a lot of plans and I think he's going to do well with his site in years to come. We gave him some ideas (holiday lets, renting fire pits -- he's very happy for people to have campfires, washing-up facilities -- missing at present but not necessary) and he passed on his own plans for expansion. A proper genuine "good guy", it was a pleasure to meet him and know that there are people out there who will do their best for you when they don't really need to do anything.

Paul also passed on information about local pubs for food: The Bear at Hodnet, which we didn't visit; and The Red Lion at Wistanswick, which does excellent food, but if he tells you it's walking distance then you need to ignore him because it's near on 3 miles!! He also recommended we visit Hawkstone Historic Park and Follies (looked brilliant but we didn't have chance to get there), and he pointed out sites of local interest, such as The Wrekin (a big hill) and the Goose at Market Drayton (a real goose that drinks cider and has its own website). We would return to this campsite.

That's our summer of camping over with -- or is it? Any recommendations?
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