Camping in the Cotswolds

It was as I just slipped under the duvet that panic swept through me. It began to rain. Actually, no, it wasn’t raining: it was a torrential downpour. And I was in a bargain basement tent.

 I lay in the darkness, praying to whichever benevolent being was listening for the tent to hold up.

 Just over an hour later – and with no let up in the storm – I started to relax a bit. The children beside me hadn’t woken up and there was no evidence of seeping wetness through the high-tech material.

 Perhaps the £25 I’d invested in a tent (I refused to spend any more for a one-night-a-year camping expedition) hadn’t proven too bad.

 I was just about to drop off when there was a deafening roar and the tent lit up. A nearby army base had just completed its night helicopter manoeuvres. Thanks, guys.

 A terrible night’s sleep ensued with my inflatable mattress slowly but surely deflating. Now I really felt as if I’d popped my camping cherry.

 Last year was the first time I’d spent a night under canvas for 20 years. Memories of appalling discomfort, lack of hygienic facilities and a decent meal refused to leave my brain.

 But, my friends persuaded me to try one more time. I wouldn’t say the bug had bitten me, but it was significantly improved from my Reading Festival experience all those years ago.

 This year, they guffawed when I proudly announced that – should they be planning a camping trip with their children – I would take my two children again and not only that, I would have my own tent and inflatable mattress.

  It was going to be a great break for we four mums and seven children. A chance to spend some quality time and let the children run riot and rediscover the joys of freedom.

 Severe weather warnings in Wales meant a last minute change of plan and I was texted to say that instead of a two and a half hour journey to Harlech I was to rendezvous the following day at Cotswold Park Farm, in Guiting Power, near Bourton on the Water.

 My three friends went down the day before me and while I sat at my desk, they tortured me with texts about the great weather and the Pimms and lemonade they were sipping while the children played in a small copse next to the campsite, getting utterly filthy and happier by the minute.

 It was when I arrived the following morning – a mere hop from the West Midlands – I realised why they had been so enthusiastic about the place.

 A basic campsite (and it is advertised as such), the beauty lay in the idyllic setting, with the Cotswolds spread out before you, all picture-perfect.

 Joe Henson, the manager, had urged my friends when they arrived to pitch on two plots, instead of three so we could save a bit of money. At £15 per pitch per night, it was already a bargain, but my three-man tent was easily accommodated.

 The 40-pitch site is accessed through the farm park entrance and it is a compact place with just four shower blocks, all of which were basically clean and delivered proper hot water, pumped via a natural spring and toilets were a little walk away by the café and gift shop.

 Other facilities include electric hook-up, drinking water, waste water disposal, chemical emptying point, toilets and showers.

 The only thing that is missing on site is a small shop for provisions. We had to drive into nearby Bourton on the Water when we ran out of milk.

 But the real beauty of staying there is the farm park, to which overnight guests have discounted entry.

 Established in 1971, it is now run by Adam Henson, a presenter of Countryfile and son of Joe and promotes conservation with its collection of British rare breeds.

 For centuries, the Cotswolds has been synonymous with wool production. In the Middle Ages, “Cotswold Lions” were bred for their long fleeces. They are still bred today on the farm.

 There are more than 50 breeds of cattle, sheep, goats and pigs, as well as horses, waterfowl and chickens on the site, which forms part of the 650-hectare Bemborough Farm.

 Cleverly constructed, the visitor is taken on an historical journey with fields showing what animals from different time periods looked like, from Stone Age (with the Soay sheep and Highland cattle) to modern-day breeds.

  Unlike many farms that I’ve visited over the years, this place really can keep a family entertained for a whole day.

 As well as the obvious attractions of the animals in the fields, and the barns where you can handle rabbits, chicks and guinea pigs, there are play areas that form an integral part of the landscape.

 The massive pillow (a convex shaped trampoline-cum bouncy castle that youngster flocked to), maze and swings, roller racers, tractor school and indoor play area are not after-thoughts to make the park attractive to children. They are all part of the experience.

 It means that youngsters can alternate between holding day-old chicks hatching and throwing themselves around a playground whenever they please. Not once, in the first of two three-hour trips to the park farm, did our gaggle of children complain about being bored or wanting to leave. They were having too much fun.

 Should you become “animalled-out”, however, you can take the two-mile wildlife walk (which is free, so those not visiting the park farm can enjoy it) – or the shorter one-mile walk – where you drink in those fabulous Cotswolds views.

 But it was in the evening, when the day visitors had gone, that you realised how quiet silence could be. Once the children went to bed (eventually) and we mums enjoyed a glass of wine by torchlight and warmed ourselves by the dying embers of our barbecue we reflected on our stay in a very special setting.

 Then, it started to rain…

This appeared in The Birmingham Post in August, 2008. It must not be reproduced without prior permission of Jayne Howarth