Camping has had something of a renaissance the last few years, thanks to the increasing popularity of staycations, festivals and a much needed injection of luxury. While the term glamping (glamorous camping) isn't the most attractive of terms, we can't fault the concept and wanted to see what all the fuss was about.
And the Bivouac, an award-winning and super-stylish sustainable tourism site in the heart of the Yorkshire Dales, seemed like the perfect place to try it out...
A car is essential to access the Dales. We decided to test drive a Skoda Yeti Elegance GreenLine II, a former Junior Design Award winner, for the four-hour trip from London. It combined the family car necessities of space and comfort with a 4x4 – and was incredibly easy to handle. Not only that, but the cleaner diesel engine of our 1.6 model felt apt for our environmentally low impact holiday.
Opened in 2012 on the site of High Knowle Farm, on the 20,000 acre Swinton Park estate, this eco-friendly yet designed-focused spotis the perfect solution for families who want to embrace the Great Outdoors in comfort. Forget childhood memories of restless nights in a sleeping bag followed by an ice cold wash over a bucket - this place couldn't be further from it.
The well-laid out site boasts eight Mongolian-inspired meadow yurts, each with a four-berth family ‘bunk bed’ (an additional pull out single is also available), wood burning stove and sink, decked area and beautifully decorated with bunting and carpet. The whole thing boasts a delightful Hobbit-like feel – there’s even a little sky light at the top for bedtime stargazing.
Right next door is the Bivouac’s café, shop and 12-berth bunk barn for larger groups, plus a spotless (and frankly, luxurious) shower and toilet block, which features the site’s own eco toiletries range, hairdryers and, best of all, hot water!
However, we opted to stay in one of the six charming wooden shacks located a short walk away. Hidden amongst the trees, they were designed by campsite founder Sam Hardwick and Rudi Mesteg, one of the original team that created the acclaimed Grand Designs timber house, and built using traditional round wood techniques. The set-up is open plan and includes a dining booth with upcycled, Cath Kidston-eqsue furnishings for family meals, and kitchen with sink and gas burner, plus a plentiful selection of mismatched crockery, glasses and cooking equipment. A ceramic cold store out of the porch is on hand for keeping food cool, too.
There are three sleeping areas with privacy curtains that can accommodate up to seven people – a ground floor double, plus a mezzanine with three single beds and an attic double, both accessed by charming wooden ladders. The whole result feels comfortable and quirky, without being too stylized.
The bathroom is beautifully finished with dark wood, granite tiling and a quirky water pale sink, with flushing loo and running water. Hot showers can be had by using the shack’s wood burner to heat the water although, visiting during a rare heatwave, we were glad of a cold one! And if you can’t wait for it to warm up, shack guests are welcome to use the communal shower blocks.
Bedding is supplied along with hand towels and tealight lanterns, but you need to bring your own bath towels, lamps and torches (these can be picked up at the shop, along with batteries, should you forget!). Eco soap and washing liquid is included, too, along with matches and clothes hangers. The only thing that is missing is electricity.
With views for miles around and fields and forest for the family to explore, this is Britain at its best. At the heart of the Bivouac is the Druid’s Temple stone circle, a 19th Century historic folly, thought to have been built by a former owner of Swinton Park. But whatever the orgins, it was certainly perfect for a spot of hide and seek.
Our shack was incredibly private, nestled among trees and blooming pink foxgloves. We loved sitting out on the porch, waiting for the stars to come out with a bottle of wine and the woodland inhabitants as our soundtrack rather than the TV. The field out front was the perfect place to let the children run around with a football or a family game of rounders.
And while the Bivouac is rural enough to feel like you’ve escaped the rat race, it has plenty of amenities close at hand. The traditional market town of Masham is a mere 10-minute drive and boasts a supermarket, independent food stores, craft and art shops, pubs and cafes. We had an enjoyable afternoon picking up a couple of prints by local artist Ian Scott Massie at Masham Gallery on Market Place, treating the children to some retro sweets at neighbouring Bah Hambugs, before a quiet pint in the King’s Head Hotel, right on the town square.
What we ate
The on-site café serves a breakfast, lunch, dinner (on selected days outside summer), cakes and drinks each day. All ingredients are locally sourced, freshly cooked and wonderfully presented. The full English breakfast (£7) was filling but not greasy, while the porridge with honey (£3) kept us going until lunchtime.
We also tried out the filled ciabattas with salad and chunky chips (£8), washed down with a pot of Yorkshire Tea (£1.75) and a slice of delicious lemon drizzle cake (£2.75). We only wished we’d ordered two! If you want something more substantial, choose from classics like sausages and mash (£9.50), or a chickpea, lentil and spinach curry (£7).
For children, there is a simple menu of pasta dishes, soup, fish goujons, or humous and dips. However, you can also order a half-sized version of any adult meal for half price. On Wednesdays at 5.30pm, a community meal takes place, encouraging guests to eat together from £5 per person and the bar is open until late on Fridays and Saturdays.
Those who would rather dine in their temporary home, a welcome pack of groceries can be ordered, complete with milk, butter and jam, bread, sugar and croissants from £12. The café also does hearty home-cooked ‘take-out’ dishes. We opted for the lamb tagine with couscous (£9), which was substantial, sweet and tender, and a synch to warm up on our gas stove.
It’s perfectly feasible to cook from scratch though. The ceramic cold store kept things just chilled enough, even in 30C heat, although it doesn’t hold vast amounts, so you'll need to shop daily. Barbecues are not permitted by the shacks and yurts, but a communal fire pit is available should you fancy a real outdoor feast.
Things to do
The obvious one would be switch off the phone and relax. A stay at the Bivouac is all about taking things at a slower pace and embracing the small joys in life, while children get a chance to run free and explore the natural world. But if you fancy something a little more structured, the site runs a huge range of children classes and activities, for all ages. There’s everything from drumming to crafts, walks to a hedgehog trail. If the weather isn’t kind, a play area in the café with a toy box, board games and books will keep them occupied. And large groups celebrating a big occasion might like to book one of the themed parties on offer.
Parents should not feel neglected, however. Sign up for foraging, woodcarving, photography or bread making. There’s also a masseuse available, quiz nights, wine tasting and regular music events in the café.
If you venture off site, Masham’s two famous breweries – Black Sheep and Theakston – run tours, while Swinton Park offers spa treatments, a cookery school, pony trekking, idyllic gardens, a birds of prey centre and much more.
Everything! The setting was magical and the accommodation was the stuff of fairy tales. Bedtime was so much easier when the children had to brush the their teeth by candlelight and scurry up a wooden ladder to reach their (extremely comfortable) mattress. But it was the thoughtful extra touches, like home-cooked take-out dinners and the eco hot tub, powered by a wood burning stove, that made this camping trip something luxurious. Sitting in the warm water, glass of wine in hand and not a soul in sight was a highlight of a pretty perfect and unique holiday.
And for families worried about the impact of jetting their brood around the world for foreign holdays, a stay at the Bivouac will ease your conscience. The campsite embraces sustainable tourism fully, with locally sourced wood waste to provide energy across the site, insulation provided by wool from Cumbria and upcycled furnishings.
Why we’ll go back
Unlike most camping holidays, we bet this one would be equally charming in colder weather. Those wood burning stoves pack a real punch and the woodland would be beautiful come Autumn. And in 2014, the first leg of the Tour De France passes right by the Bivouac, so you’d better get booking.
Prices start from £93 per night for a wooden shack, £64 per night for a meadow yurt (both a minimum three night stay). The bunk barn starts from £20 per person, per night (sleeps up to 12).
Bivouac cafe open Sun-Thurs 9am-6pm, Fri-Sat 9am-late. Longer opening hours operate in the summer holidays.
Hot tub hire is £60 per day. Bike hire (including helmets and locks) is £10 a day.
Find out more at thebivouac.co.uk or call 01765 535020.
Skoda Yeti Elegance GreenLine II 1.6 TDI, £20,665. Find out more at skoda.co.uk/yeti
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