I received a copy of The Sunday Times Travel Section from early July, which a mate had sent me as it had a top 20 small campsite list. This look liked it had been lifted from Tiny Campsite guide, and I couldn’t help but laugh out loud when I saw their Camping Manifesto: it just looked like they were trying too hard to adopt an attitude that’s not likely to be shared by their readers, or by the journalist, and seemed a little disingenuous given they’re part of Murdoch‘s empire. It’s hard to see why you’d pay for this content online as you can check out the Guardian Camping Guide for free and find a whole host of sites on the Cool Camping Directory. There’s also The Independent’s Top 50 Campsites from 2006 (1-25 and 26-50) with input from the likes of Cool Camping and Alan Rogers Guides, and a more recent one they put together last year here. Then there’s Mumsnet Camping Reviews, UK Campsite Directory and the list that Cath and Math have put together here.
My point being that there’s nothing particularly exclusive about the Sunday Times 20 Top Campsite list, which seems more of an attempt to find 20 sites that are spread across the country rather than necessarily 20 of the best that fit their criteria. For example, they don’t have the likes of Blackberry Wood and Hidden Springs as they already have 2 others in the South East, despite these sites fitting the criteria they’ve outlined in their manifesto (are they kidding?) and being arguably better sites than some of ones they’ve mentioned.
I found their manifesto a bit perplexing as it’s not the kind of term you’d expect from a paper owned by Murdoch, even with tongue in cheek. The exclusion of any sites that include mobile homes and caravans seemed a little elitist, particularly after our recent experience at Stubcroft Farm, which has re-wired my thinking about what’s cool about a site. They also didn’t seem to be clear about whether this motorhome and caravan exclusion extends to camper vans, gypsy caravans and retro airstream trailers given they seem to be mobile transport of choice in glamping circles.
I absolutely agree with them about being able to have campfires though, but as someone pointed out to me recently this expectation can be a little irresponsible at certain times of the year and in particular locations unless your an arsonist looking to set a forest or field on fire. I also with the programme as far as excluding sites that have a main road behind the hedge is concerned, particularly after having heard about Paul‘s (who sent me Sunday Times Guide) experience at South Lytchett Manor Caravan and Camping Park (see here). Then again Paul and his family had a great time there, so does it really matter.
Not quite as sure about whether sites that include electrical hook-ups should be excluded unless a guide is about wild camping, which I can’t imagine is the preferred past time of readers of the Sunday Times. For example, the Stubcroft Farm site we stayed at recently does provide electrical hook-ups, but is unlikely to be included in a Cool Camping guide. I would say that this is a shame because I’d question their definition of cool, given the atmosphere was very inclusive, and if you want to stay at a site that’s close to some of the best two (sandy) beaches on the South Coast, then I think you’d find it hard to beat this one. That’s cool as far as I’m concerned and it seemed cool to a whole load of others including some from the Vanilla Splits team who would be considered ‘cool’ by Cool Camping.
I’m definitely not convinced about the number of pitches being an important factor. The Sunday Times only list those sites with no more than 40 pitches, and ideally less. The only sites I know that fit this criteria are booked out at 8-12 months in advance. The Sunday Times say that the sites they listed still had availability, which seems to suggest they didn’t pick the best ones. Also as someone who goes camping with kids, we’ve never chosen a site based on how many pitches they’ve had. In fact, none of the 3 sites we’ve stayed at recently would have fitted this criteria, but each as been great in its own way. Wowo had more than 40 pitches in the field we were in, but it didn’t seem crowded even though we were part of group of 40 people. The kids loved charging around the fields and ‘exploring’ the woods and brooks, so we’re planning a trip there next year with over 30 families. The Roundhill Caravan Park & Campsite in the New Forest maybe more of a mainstream site than Wowo, and certainly doesn’t allow fires for obvious reasons, but it’s got good facilities and is in a great location. It’s also a fantastic base from which to explore the New Forest. As mentioned above, Stubcroft Farm was a great place to camp near some great beaches. So I think that guides that have fixed criteria seem to miss the point. What’s seems more important to me is the location and situation. So where you end-up going to is often liked to how long you are going for, especially if you are taking young kids. There’s also a different set considerations if you’re going on your own, or as a couple with or without a dog; and different set again if you are going as family and whether with this is on your own, or just with a few other families, or even a large group. It’s this kind of context, which is often missing from guides, particularly those put out by the newspapers.