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Muddy Goes Glamping

Dress it up all you like, glamping is still camping, right? Right? But what about when there's a Chesterfield involved?

I knew this day would come.  Camping; the very word usually fills me with utter dread. Gone are the days when I would frequently build myself up to giddy levels of excitement at the thought of going camping, only to realise – once again – the horror of the whole experience, 24 hours in. I’m much more savvy these days, having endured one spider-dwelling shower block too many. Oh no, nowadays I simply and politely decline all offers to sleep under canvas.

Until now. With Mudlet in tow and hearing that glamping is suddenly all the rage, I knew I’d eventually have to grit my teeth and bear it.  And, I must admit, Longlands, based in North Devon gives it a pretty good shot at trying to lure you in with the promise that their safari tents are like boutique hotels with canvas sides.  Unplug, reconnect, revive, it says. We’ll see, I thought.

And we did, on a recent trip to Coombe Martin on the North Devon coast, where Longlands is based.  We were invited to go and see what this glamping business is all about and, holy craperoo, did I get a surprise.

The first clue is in the welcome email, where there is a distinctly short list of things they suggest that you should pack.  All you really need to bring is the kind of stuff that you would normally take away on a holiday, except perhaps with the addition of a torch and a few extra layers.

Then came a complete and utter Muddy first and it couldn’t have come at a more perfect time. The weather forecast took a turn for the better, promising unbroken sunshine the entire weekend.  Regular readers will know that my trips away are always wet ones. Crikey, Longlands is pulling out all the stops, we thought.

And then we arrived, after an easy scoot off the M5, heading north.  With the sea shimmering in the distance, all around us were green fields and blue skies and pure peace and quiet.  We were greeted by the lovely Bella who is, quite frankly, loving her life in this little patch of glamping paradise.  Bella sent us driving down the path, past the ‘larder’, towards the five “tents”, in search of our base, named Lynton (they’re all named after local beauty spots).

Now I say “tent” somewhat ”tent”atively (boom!), because even I know that most tents don’t come with a Chesterfield sofa installed in the living room.  Honestly, I could not believe my eyes, looking at these beauties, each built into carving in the hillside, in a neat row.  If this is camping in the 21st century, then sign me up, baby!  Inside each of the five tents, you will discover actual luxury. There, I said it.

*The next paragraph contains words that don’t traditionally belong in a feature about the great outdoors, so look away now if you’re a hardened camper.*

Roll up the canvas side and you’re into a roomy living and dining area that’s as cosily dressed as a little cottage.

Then, behind a wood-burning stove, you’ll find the kitchen, complete with full-sized (and fully stocked) dresser and Belfast sink. A flipping Belfast sink!

Beyond the kitchen you have a double bedroom and a twin, both with full-size beds and comfy flannel duvets and Egyptian cotton sheets.  Finally, at the back of the tent, wooden doors lead out to a toilet (an actual proper one with electricity and hot water) and a shower room (which is where the boiler is housed, meaning it stays nice and toasty).  Basically, some of the more pricey hotels out there could learn a thing or two from this place; it’s all rather glam.

But the best bit is saved for the Mudlets (and the parents, who will benefit enormously from this natty perk).  Taking pride of place in the middle of the tent is a cupboard which opens up to reveal the cutest, snuggliest bed.   Accessed via a little ladder, little ones can feel as though they’re in their own den and you can actually shut the doors at bedtime, so they’ll be enclosed under a black-out roof.  It’s not as claustrophobic as it sounds; on both sides are little peep-holes, so they can rest assured that you’re never far away, either in the living room or the bedroom. Meanwhile, you get the bonus of a civilised evening as they sleep.  We woke on the first morning to the Mudlet’s beady eye spying on us, which we chalked up as a major result.

There are plenty of luxury touches, from coffee beans to a well-stocked games chest and glossy mags and we were treated to a bottle of fizz waiting for us on arrival, too.

On a practical note, the kitchen is brilliantly stocked, there are hot water bottles and there’s no shortage of candles, tea lights and lanterns to help guide the way if you head out.  Stargazers take note, it’s particularly dark here and Exmoor happens to be the first International Dark Sky Reserve in Europe and Longlands looks directly on to it.

So, to the rest of this lovely site.  They’ve thought of everything, here.  Acres of fresh air, walks along the stream and down to a little private lake, complete with rowing boats and loungers. Agonisingly, a brand spanking new hot tub was sitting, elevated, ready to be unveiled in just a few days’ time, so we only just missed out on that little beauty.  Dogs are welcome and will love it, too.

The hot-tub, sigh…

Just down the lane, is the larder, which is a beautifully stocked honesty shop, full of local goodies, essentials and gifts and toys that you actually want to buy.

For rainy days (of which we had none, hurrah), there is also a sweet play area packed with toys, books and a rocking horse – and you can make the most of playtime, by catching up on the rest of the world via wifi.  You can grab your own wicker basket and scoop up all the essentials, like fizz, marshmallows and ice cream, and cook up a feast from your kitchen.  Or you can let Bella make it easy for you, like we did, by ordering up some of her home-cooked meals. We had a tasty family-sized cottage pie and veggies waiting for us on the first night, simple to warm up on the stove.  Honestly, as camping goes, this could not have been any easier.

Given the right weather, you could happily spend a few days on-site, sunbathing on your verandah, or gallivanting about in the grounds; but should you want to get out and explore (and I don’t blame you), you’re in a great spot.

Damien Hurst’s ‘Verity’ and The Quay

Ten minutes’ drive will take you to the coastal town of Ilfracombe, or the Best Beach in the UK, at Woolacombe. We did both in a day, stopping for coffee and cake at Damien Hirst’s awesome cafe, the Quay, before heading over to the beach for a paddle, rounded off nicely by dinner at a lovely village pub five minutes away, the Black Venus Inn.  Our day of leisure was merely a taster, as there is too much to do in North Devon.

I suppose the only giveaway that we were still ‘camping’, albeit in complete and utter luxury, was the sounds of the canvas flapping when the wind got up at night, along with the chilly evening temperatures, but Spring had only just sprung and it just gave us an excuse to keep the log burner well stocked.  Come the second night, we were absolute pro’s, wrapped up, with bedsocks on, listening to the sounds of the owl at night and the woodpecker come dawn.

I’m as shocked as you are, but I can’t recommend the glamping experience enough if you’re up for making a few happy memories, and it’s definitely not just a family thing, either.  I’d love to scoop up a bunch of mates and return for a girls get-together, and the chance to switch off from the rest of the world for a while.  It’s a spin on camping that I approve of.  But next time, bagsie the cupboard bed, it is a double afterall.

Longlands, Coulsworthy, Combe Martin, North Devon, EX34 0PD.  longlandsdevon.co.uk

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