Let it be said: I’m not a happy camper. It’s the faff of it all – the packing, the assembling, the disassembling – that puts me off. Add to that the lack of comfort (for all the blow-up mattresses in the world, I’d rather have a bed), and the perennial risk of a jolly good dousing, and I’m running as fast as I can to the nearest B&B.
HOWEVER. And it is a big however (hence the caps). I cannot deny that there are elements of the whole camping thing that have started to have appeal now I am with family: the freedom granted from a traffic-free, grassy site; the proximity of other families to make friends with; and, somewhat miraculously in this day and age, the lack of screens. Add to that the novelty of camp fires, toasting marshmallows and waking up to fresh air and blue skies, and you have a package that no father should really deny their children. A package that, potentially, even fathers like me could enjoy.
The compromise was clear: glamping. All the experience, none of the faff. And where better to try it than at the highly-regarded Yurt Village at Meon Springs, Hampshire?
I discovered this place a while ago and included it in my ‘top 5 unusual places to stay’. I’d earmarked it as a good introduction to glamping as it ticked my boxes: not far away (just over an hour’s drive my home in Sussex, so easy to bolt home should it all go wrong); a lovely, hidden location in the South Downs; and all the comforts we’d require (‘just bring towels and a toothbrush’ is their motto).
The opportunity to go came in July, during my paternity leave. I speculatively checked the online availability calendar and saw that they miraculously had a 2 night break available the following week. The weather forecast looked good and my wife seemed unfazed at the prospect of taking our 5 week old baby along. So I booked and off we went.
Having billed it as a camping trip, my son, Leo, smelt a rat as soon as we arrived: ‘This isn’t camping Daddy. There’s electricity’. Indeed there was – you could charge your phone in the yurt (but fortunately you can’t get much reception to use it; and there’s no Wifi). However, this did not curb his or Genevieve’s excitement. They couldn’t wait to get inside, and our yurt didn’t disappoint: a superking bed for Mum and Dad and twins for the children, all made up with plush duvets and jolly cushions; fairy lights; bunting; a comfy futon; and a woodburner in the centre of it all. The interior at night was almost magical and would be very romantic in other circumstances!
We were first to arrive on site but, within 30 minutes, another family came on the scene with a similarly excited gaggle of kids. Another 30 minutes later, they were all playing together in the sandpit. We barely saw Leo and Genevieve for the rest of the evening. Leo made friends with a ‘loom band buddy’, an older girl named Thea. Genevieve took full advantage of her new found freedom, repeatedly wandering between our yurt, the yurt of ‘my friends’ and the sandpit. Meanwhile my wife, the baby and I sat on our deck, admiring the views of the rolling countryside, cooking burgers over the open fire and sipping wine (baby excluded of course).
The beauty of staying at Meon Springs is that, for a 2 night break, you don’t actually need to get in your car at all (provided the weather is good). And we didn’t. We spent our time simply enjoying the site, walking (a long way!), eating and fishing (Meon Springs is also a fly fishing centre).
What’s more, help is never too far away. Karina is your host and will come and meet you to settle you in and answer any questions about how things work and what to do. There’s even a communal area called ‘the yurtery’ which has a kitchen with your own fridge and ovens should the weather prevent cooking al fresco; plus a lovely sitting and dining area full of toys and games for the children.
Things were going so well that I really didn’t want to leave when our 2 nights were up. I felt I was just getting in to my groove: I’d got used to wandering down to the toilet block for my morning ablutions; and had started to perfect my camp-fire technique. The children were forming friendships that could have blossomed; and even Rufus, the baby, had settled into it all, sleeping better on this second night and giving us a lie-in.
Still, it’s always better to leave a place before you want to, and that’s what we did. Sad to go, keen to return, and with a lifetime of glamping ahead. Thank you, Meon Springs. I’m converted.
Things to do at Meon Springs:
- Catch fish. Every day at 3pm, kids can try their hand at catching a fish in the trout pond with the help of one of the staff at the Fly Fishing centre. It was not looking very promising for us as the trout were failing to bite on the sweetcorn bait provided. However, in a fortuitous twist, a rather stupid trout decided to swim backwards straight into my net. For the rest of evening, I was a hero!
- Milk cows. The yurts are on a working dairy farm and you are invited to go and watch the cows being milked in the parlour every day around 5pm. We took the opportunity thinking it would be fun and educational but beware: this is no idyllic petting farm! It’s noisy, smelly and very ‘real’. I can’t say our kids enjoyed it. They were freaked when the family in the next-door yurt emerged, just as we arrived, covered in poo. It was left to Mum to do the milking!
- Go for a walk. The site is right on the South Downs Way, so you can head off from the door and amble through the stunning countryside. A good place to aim for is the Café at the Sustainability Centre at Mercury Hill. We stumbled upon it and couldn’t believe our luck: a café serving delicious vegetarian lunches and ice creams; a corner full of toys for the kids; and a lovely garden area for them to explore.
- Have a BBQ. Every Thursday, Karina hosts a BBQ at the Fly Fishing Centre. At about £5 a head, this offers great value and a break from the cooking and washing up, whilst the kids run round playing hide and seek with new-found friends. Karina will even barbeque your trout if you catch one – provided you gut it yourself (I delegated this to Kirsty). The Centre is licensed so you can get a beer and the setting overlooking the lake is beautiful.
- Rent bikes. We didn’t do this: Gin can’t ride yet; Leo shows no interest; and the baby is far too young. But it’s perfect cycling country and should we return when the kids are a bit older, I’d do this.
- Sit on your private deck, soak in the views and drink wine. The likelihood is your kids will be somewhere else, so it’s the perfect opportunity.