Tree tents, beehives, or a ‘holicopter’? It’s whatever you fancy
When Robert Stephenson Smyth BadenPowell published his Scouting for Boys in 1908, a night under canvas was about self-reliance and teamwork. In the 20th century, only the Bible, the Koran and Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-tung sold more copies than the lieutenant-general’s tome, which was written to galvanise a “wasted generation” of Edwardian youngsters. But what would he make of an overnight in a converted train carriage, furnished with a super-king-size bed, reindeer skin rugs and a hot tub?
For camping has become glamping. In its first wave, this “glamorous camping” was a practical adaptation: a convenience in which a yurt in any field would do. But recently it has evolved into something greater, offering five-star luxuries in the grounds of hotels or castles, or in some of Britain’s most remote and precious landscapes.
The newest treehouses to let down their ladders in 2018 come with a similar price tag to a high-end hotel room, but perhaps that’s fair: they offer more space and feature wraparound balconies, free-standing copper bathtubs, underfloor heating, smart TVs and espresso machines.
Glamping is booming: in England, the number of overnight trips doubled between 2015 and 2016, rising from 160,000 trips to 325,000. Over the first three months of this year, the Cool Camping website reported a 50 per cent rise in glamping bookings, compared with the same period of 2017. Responding to this demand, the company has just launched a spin-off website called Glampingly (glampingly.co.uk), featuring a collection of more luxurious properties.
“Even five or six years ago, glamping was a niche industry but now it is almost a mainstream holiday option,” said Jonathan Knight, Cool Camping’s founder. “People are glamping rather than staying in an Airbnb or a self-catering cottage.”
Pitchup, a campsite booking website, also saw “dramatic increases” in its glamping bookings when comparing 2017 with the previous year, with “microlodges” up 114 per cent and “rent-a-tents” up 151 per cent.
The boom has paved the way for a second wave of high-end, architectdesigned accommodation; dwellings that are sustainable and invoke an appreciation of nature. A cabin dug out from a hillside featured on Channel 4’s Grand Designs, while a number of treehouses appeared on George Clarke’s Amazing Spaces on the same channel. (The architect and presenter’s own Sky Den is available for overnight stays).
“People always want something interesting and new to do,” said Knight. “A double decker bus, a decommissioned plane; a hotel room is a hotel room but when you stay in a beautiful treehouse, handcrafted from the wood of the forest you are staying in, it is a unique experience.”
From this summer, glampers will be able to stay in a former slate mine in Snowdonia, in safari-style lodges. Their wet and windy mountainside location is not one that screams “pamper me” but the isolated spot does sit under some of Britain’s starriest skies – an altogether different sort of luxury.
Camping purists may sneer, but this new wave of glamping should be celebrated. Eco-friendly structures are giving holidaymakers access to protected landscapes where hotels would never get permission to build. It’s not only Snowdonia where you can see stars: you might also try Hesleyside Huts in Northumberland. Log cabins near wildlife-watching hides within nature reserves are common now, while Buck’s Coppice is a lakeside cabin that has been allowed in ancient woodland.
We also know that, as the number of traditional camping and caravanning trips is growing at the same time as the increase in glamping, overall, people are choosing to spend more time outdoors. Paul Jones, of the Camping and Caravanning Club, noted the “growth of camping in all its forms”, while suggesting that glamping is “here to stay”. “Glamping offers a great introduction to life under canvas for thousands of people each year,” he added.
But where do you draw the line? Don’t dishwashers and the ability to order in your dinner mean that you are no longer really camping? If there is a line, no one seems bothered by it. “In the States, they think camping should only be under canvas,” said Knight. “But in the UK it is a different tale.”
With lots of generic “pods” available that are quick and easy for landowners to install, experts think that the less bespoke side of the industry could reach saturation point in the future.
But glamping’s second wave has the wow factor and, as long as access to a patch of wilderness sets our cabins or treehouses apart from a hotel, experts believe we will carry on glamping.
“The concept of staying and being somewhere beautiful will always be popular, and we believe that in modern life it has never been more important,” said Tom Dixon, managing director of glamping website Canopy & Stars.
Many glamping sites now organise activities designed to get us engaging with the natural world. And with more children out wildlife-watching, stargazing and whittling on holiday, perhaps Baden-Powell would approve. In the Brecon Beacons, this treehouse has a wraparound deck above the Llynfi river, a fire pit and private hot tub accessed by a swinging bridge. A romantic hideaway just for two, there is a hand-carved double bed and luxury linens, plus an en suite bathroom with a walk-in shower and a kitchen with a dishwasher and coffee machine. The owners provide the ingredients for a cooked breakfast.
From £189 a night. qualityunearthed.co.uk George Clarke’s treehouse blends the indoors with the outdoors, taking in everything from red squirrels in the trees to the sweeping river just below. The space is impressively versatile. The kitchen has foldaway furniture, glass doors open on to a balcony and a wet room is accessible from the deck. A circular viewpoint holds a wood-burning stove and the triangular roof of the loft can be opened up to reveal Northumberland’s Dark Sky Reserve.
From £300 for two nights. canopyandstars.co.uk This clever cabin-cumtreehouse is built into the top of a tall, steep slope, giving the setting of a canopy, despite being close to terra firma. Enormous windows and a balcony look out into the leaves. There’s a wood-burner, a king-size bed and a comfortable lounge area, though the shared kitchen is a stroll away. Borrow a book to read beneath the site’s giant namesake redwood or visit Norton Brook.
From £120 a night. glampingly.co.uk The ruined mansion of Witley Court, two miles away, is visible over the hedgerows surrounding this rather stately hut. Inside, there’s a king-size bed with a chunky headboard dividing the sleeping space from the hand-crafted kitchen. The oak flooring ends where an en suite shower room begins, not that you need it. A deep copper bathtub is the hut’s piece de resistance. From £125 a night. glampingly.co.uk
The Kingfisher cabin, main; the Sky Den treehouse, below