Last weekend it was just me and my two boys – half the normal brood. My husband was away with the girls on an annual ‘Dads & Daughters’ kayaking weekend. Each year they return glowing, scruffy & sunkissed, with tales of white-water adventures. This year I wanted to treat our boys to something as wholesome; time together that we’d remember.
When hanging out with Rory and Hugo, it is easy to default to screens & skate-parks. I toyed with jaunt to a theme-park, but felt that they deserved more than a hot day standing in long queues. And I am a little over crowds. Our lives are so busy, so noisy, and I felt what we really needed was time away. Away from everyone and everything.
Well, not everything. I didn’t want to go so off-grid that we were having to skin rabbits.
Camping! We would go camping. Camping without the work. Camping without the hassle. Camping with bunting & hot-tubs. Glamorous camping.
Canvas & Stars have three beautiful sites, and I opted for a bell tent at Ridlington Farm, Petworth.
As things are already set up for guests’ arrival I was able pack pretty light. A normal camping trip usually requires hours of careful planning, packing & re-packing a fully loaded car boot. So it felt wonderfully liberating to just shove a change of clothes into a bag, grab some books, a Stuffel of Lego and some wash things. We were even able to go light on the food: basics like bread, eggs, oil, salt and pepper were already there ready for our use.
The location is absolutely stunning – set amongst rolling hills with barely a house in sight.
Just what the doctor ordered for this frazzled trio.
The owner, Gavin, was around from the outset – popping up with chilled prosecco, or offering a helping hand with bags and fires. And our tent was gorgeous. We really appreciated the sweet little details – kids activity packs, coloured pencils, and warm ponchos for the chillier evenings. Such a calm environment to kick off the weekend.
There is a kitchen tent, well-equipped with essentials, and a communal fire pit on the camp. But we were really keen to build our own fire next to our tent to cook on and hunker around. As a result, much of the time was spent light the fire and then coaxing it up to decent, marshmallow-melting temperature. The kids loved this and the slow process gave us the opportunity to sit together for longer than we ordinarily would. By the end of our first meal we had settled in to a more zen state than usual weekend zipping allows!
I suspect camp food requires a whole separate blog of it’s own. So much scope for fun campfire scoffing! Suffice to say we ate a LOT of marshmallows … Hugo is champion marshmallow chef and took great pride in perfecting his technique.
Healthy eating fell a little by the wayside, but we enjoyed nachos (a can of M&S chilli, tortilla chips, packet of grated cheese and chopped avocado and coriander to finish); Campfire Dogs – Herta sausages popped on a kebab stick and wrapped in canned croissant dough. (These were hilarious. They took ages to cook and the dough kept sliding off the sausages. We had to stick lots of kebab sticks in them to hold them together, but it was really fun and the kids hoovered them up); plus the good old favourite – bananas, stuffed with chocolate and baked in foil until they are soft and sticky. Yum.
The boys played football with other kids on the site, and we finally tumbled into bed with the setting sun at 10.30ish. Fresh air and a peaceful night.
We kicked off Saturday morning with a Bushcraft course on site that I had signed us up to in advance. The lovely Sam (wearing a t shirt which she’d tie dyed herself – the height of cool as far as the boys were concerned) showed us various inventive ways to make fire. We cooked ‘braddock’ on an iron skillet and were shown how to make rope out of nettle stems. Rory and Hugo made necklaces out of wood and their new nettle rope which they were really proud of; something to take home for show and tell.
Afterwards we pottered into Petworth (just 3 miles away) and lunched in a café. It’s a beautiful town, with a fun playground, and gave us a chance to buy water bombs & some more Lego for the Stuffel. (www.discoverpetworth.co.uk will help you plan!)
At 4pm every day Gavin organises a scavenger hunt back at the camp, which the kids loved. With great excitement they rushed into the woods to forage for feathers, snail shells, smooth pebbles and colourful leaves. Sweetly there was a prize for each of them, and the boys were delighted with their respective torch and World Cup sticker books.
In true glamping style, there is a hot tub, surrounded by views of far-reaching fields. It’s open to everyone from midday but you can also book a private slot in the evening. We had twilight session which the boys loved (And I found it the perfect spot for a Saturday night drink!)
We woke to another bright day and after a chilled out morning soaking up the peace we drove down to the beach at West Wittering - about half an hour away. Thanks to it's expanse of spotless sand West Wittering has just been chosen as one of Britain's top beaches by The Daily Telegraph . Hear hear! To avoid summer traffic we parked a mile out of town and cycled in – far more freedom and flexibility, then whiled away a day splashing about in the sunshine. (www.westwitteringestate.co.uk for more info on parking and facilities)
In short, we had a wonderful, much-needed escape, and would highly recommend Canvas & Stars to others. We look forward to exploring their other sites ourselves! The showers are basic, loos are portaloos, but clean and very thoughtfully presented. The bell tents are beautiful, the staff are lovely, and if time is short but time away is needed, you cannot go far wrong. We returned home relaxed and happy, with no tent to dry out and put away! Phew.
Top tips for the weekend:
Try to relax into not doing very much. You will be back to the grindstone before you know it
Forget about healthy eating, it’s just 2 days!
Take a book (and then make yourself read it).
Pack a Stuffel full of Lego or Playmobil - al fresco playing is a wonderful way for the kids to while away some time, and will give you more of a chance to get into that book.
Go on a night walk. I woke at 2am one night and the stars were incredible. I thought about waking the kids up, but didn’t. I wish I had. Next time.