by Linda Hull
Following a fun February half term trip to London, using the tried and tested Premier Inn and Pizza Express combo, and a stay at home Easter, we were ready for something different for May half term. One of the girls (now 7 and 8) suggested a campervan, and after investigating various options we found that the New Forest Youth Hostel offered ‘glamping’ i.e. a large tent, proper beds (well, futons anyway) and a woodburner to keep us toasty! As the most sceptical member of the family when it comes to camping, I figured this would do for a few days, and so with only a little trepidation, pressed the ‘book’ button.
Living just south of Oxford, the New Forest is a great location for us – not too far to travel, and offering both countryside and beaches as well as some potential wet weather options within easy reach. In terms of activities, we peaked rather on the first day visiting Moors Valley Country Park to have a go at the Go Ape Junior experience. It turned out there was loads to do at the park even without Go Ape, but as a family activity it’s hard to beat Go Ape; it was fab even if a little higher than I had anticipated for a Junior experience.
After a celebratory ice cream and a quick trip to the play park, we drove to the Youth Hostel at Burley, a short drive from the A31. Burley is one of those funny villages that seems to exist solely for tourists – ice cream shops and a couple of shops devoted to witchcraft seemed about it. The youth hostel is out of the village centre a little way, and in the heart of countryside with walking right on the doorstep. It’s also just along the track from the White Buck Inn which a number of people had recommended to me for good food and lovely grounds. I tried hard not to sigh as we drove past, and the boutique bedrooms were left for someone else to test out.
Arriving at the Youth Hostel, the camping field was small, with five bell tents and a couple of ordinary family tents. There were also three camping pods, newly opened, along with a new shower and toilet block and self-catering kitchen. The kitchen was well equipped but did get very crowded at meal times, and the other facilities were clean and functional, although lacking anywhere to plug in a hairdryer or (to my shame) hair straighteners. It also felt that at peak times two toilets would come in for a lot of use, and wouldn’t stay so pristine for long.
Our tent was spacious, and the futons were comfortable – I think we all slept better than anticipated. The wood burner definitely heated the space effectively, and the solar lighting worked well following a sunny day – less well following an afternoon of torrential rain. Although there was obviously some noise from other tents, everyone seemed happy to settle down at 10pm and all was peaceful from then until the inevitable early wake-up with the sun.
There was safe space for the children to run around and build dens, and picnic tables and a fire pit. Unfortunately for us, the weather was pretty mixed and so the image I had of sitting outside with a glass of something chilled while the children ran around with new friends didn’t quite materialise. However, I have holidayed enough in the UK not to take this as a failure – more to say that had it been sunny it would have been a pretty perfect spot to relax.
We were also welcome to use the facilities inside the Youth Hostel, which for us meant the big treat of a cooked breakfast on two mornings out of the three we were there. This was very good, and the staff were friendly and helpful, so I am sure evening meals would also have been worth investigating.
We spent a day at the seaside, enjoying the crabbing opportunities at Mudeford and spending a good couple of hours on the beach enjoying a coffee and pastry while the girls paddled, built sandcastles and ignored the chilly wind in their swimsuits. Another day Andy took them on a long cycle ride on the forest tracks near the Youth Hostel, while I went on a walk and took lots of photos. We followed this up with a trip into Lymington for some well-earned pizza and a little retail therapy for me, sadly coinciding our arrival at the quayside with another torrential shower. On our final day we went for a walk at Horseshoe Bottom, where as you can imagine there were plenty of New Forest ponies and a wide open space, where we took advantage of the stiff breeze to fly our kite which is another holiday essential for us. We then tested out the White Buck’s catering at least, and I can report that my friends were right in their recommendation.
I think my conclusion would be fairly predictable for anyone who knows me; I don’t think I’ve ever been called glamorous and am certainly not a seasoned camper, so glamping is unlikely to be a regular thing for us. On a rainy afternoon, being in one space with bored children with nothing more to sit on than a beanbag was less than comfortable. Also, I am useless at filtering out other people’s noise, so canvas walls are not the ideal medium for a restful time. I suspect when we do return to the New Forest, we’ll return to the successful holiday cottage formula.
There were plenty of positive aspects of our break in the New Forest; the girls loved the camping – toasting marshmallows on the woodburner was a particular highlight. It was inexpensive, the facilities were pretty good and it was all set up and ready to go which takes much of the faff factor out of camping as well as cutting down on the packing needs. The location was great, offering lots to do and see, and plenty left to explore on another visit, in a beautiful part of the country. The travelling time there and back was short, meaning we would do something on each day rather than losing a day in the car. And we have discovered the way to eliminate whinging from a family day out is to get up in the treetops and ‘hang out’ – quite literally!