We’ve carried on glamping: Norfolk’s rise in luxury camp sites

Amber Wykes, pictured with her son Claude Perkins in 2013.PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY

Amber Wykes, pictured with her son Claude Perkins in 2013.PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY - Credit: Archant

A rise in domestic tourism is reviving campsites as Brexit boosts staycations and glamping, or glam camping. A Norfolk businesswoman is adding four new glamping sites to her portfolio this spring to meet demand.

Amber Wykes, pictured with her son Claude Perkins 6, in 2013 in the grounds of Mannington Hall.PHOTO

Amber Wykes, pictured with her son Claude Perkins 6, in 2013 in the grounds of Mannington Hall.PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY - Credit: Archant

It's camping, but not as you know it…

Glamping provides the joys of nature without the 'roughing it' factor of traditional campsites – while humans have been camping for as long as we've realised that throwing some material over some sticks engineers a makeshift shelter, glamping is the new kid on the camping block, but it's evolving fast.

Glamorous camping, or glamping, is believed to be rooted in the 1900s when wealthy Europeans and Americans wanted a taste of luxury on their camping adventures to Africa and would stay in large safari tents which were furnished with double beds, luxurious rugs and antique furniture.

The portmanteau glamping became popular in 2007 as camp sites began to realise there was an untapped market for those who wanted to experience the great outdoors without the tent pitching, sleeping on uneven ground, leaking tents, chemical toilets and foil tray barbecues.

Ambers Bell Tents which is one of the most popular rentals on Airbnb. Picture Airbnb.

Ambers Bell Tents which is one of the most popular rentals on Airbnb. Picture Airbnb. - Credit: Airbnb

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In one of tourism's best compromises of all time, campsites began to embrace a new way of living under canvas, one that involved real beds and real carpet but also incorporated the best elements of camping: the campfire camaraderie, sleeping under the stars, fresh air and an escape from the nine to five.

A recent report from online travel site Airbnb discovered that millennials aren't just prioritising travel over things like buying houses and cars, they're actively saving for it and seeking adventurous, local and personal experiences when they go away.

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Increasingly, holidaymakers are looking for an experience which means something, an emotionally evocative immersive environment – and often, if it involves a breather from technology meaning that happy glampers can pay more attention to the beautiful surroundings they're in and the people they're with, that's an added bonus.

Like a halfway house for people who loved festivals but hated queuing for the toilets, glam tents for rent are also an answer to many people's Brexit uncertainty and the perceived hostility that some travellers feel they will encounter in the EU and mean more people than ever will be looking closer to home for their holidays.

Glamping in the woods near Grimston. Photo: Happy Valley Norfolk

Glamping in the woods near Grimston. Photo: Happy Valley Norfolk - Credit: Happy Valley Norfolk

In a recent tourism survey of 1,500 holidaymakers, one in three British families reported they would see their holiday budget shrink in 2019 and 50 per cent said they would consider staying in a local camp site or holiday park with a third saying they were interested in trying glamping.

The increased interest in holidays at home is also a great opportunity for site owners to invest in glamping which doesn't involve a costly build programme: tents can be ordered and erected within weeks and can be accommodated on many different kinds of land, meaning that hard-to-reach places can suddenly become holiday spots.

In Norfolk there are a plethora of glamping sites including Tin Can Camping in South Norfolk, Happy Valley Norfolk, Swallowtails in Holt, Keepers Meadow at Oxnead, Oak Lodge Glamping in Thetford, Whitlingham Broad, Hickling Campsite and Brambells Glamping on the Norfolk/Suffolk border.

And it's a growing industry.

North Norfolk businesswoman Amber Wykes fell in love with glamping 12 years ago and now runs Amber's Bell Tent Camping – in 2019, she has increased the number of sites she runs from two to six, including two outside Norfolk.

She remembers the joy of discovering glamping in 2007 when she was pregnant with her second child: 'My first had so much energy and just loved being outdoors,' she said, 'we didn't have any money, so used to spend family holiday time camping locally with our own pitch-up gear. You could see the thrill of adventure it offered on his little face. I did find it hard work though: 24 hours in a muddy field and a whole week of washing and drying when we got home.

'I was pregnancy-tired, so the thought of sleeping on the floor and cooking in the rain was just too much for me at this point - but I still craved that feeling of the elements on my skin and the total escape. Glamping wasn't a word then - but we found some posh safari style tents in the New Forest on a farm. What a revelation that trip was!

'Camping is fantastic - and I still camp on short trips if it's just a couple of us - but if you are time hungry, which lets face it, most of us are, and short of space for gear - then 'glamping' is definitely an answer. Glamping is embraced by campers and non-campers. It's so much more than fancy tents. It's giving people the opportunity to access nature and the outdoors, which can't be a bad thing. They are able to stay in places they wouldn't previously had access to.'

Amber runs sites at Mannington Hall and Wiveton Hall, her first toe-dip in the glamping market, and has just increased her portfolio to include a wild escape at Walcis Farm Estate, just outside Reepham, where campers can enjoy wild swimming, canoeing, fishing and a wood-fired sauna and a woodland setting on the Hoveton Estate next door to BeWILDerwood with oak trees to climb and the Broads a stone's throw away.

And this year she has also opened sites at Hopton Court Estate in Shropshire, close to the county's stunning hills and with each tent enjoying a private toilet, washroom and a wood-fired sauna, and at Bells Farm in Worcestershire on a pick-your-own farm.

'I am working towards growing a sustainable brand which people can trust as somewhere to invest their valuable free time with reliable rewards - outstanding locations, stunning accommodation and a memorable experience. There will be more sites next year as I am already in negotiations with a couple further afield on the edges of the UK in the wilds.'

And if you're a first-time camper (or glamper) what's the one essential you have to pack?

'Wellies,' laughs Amber, 'people arrive not knowing the importance of wellies. Even if it's dry and midsummer - if you are camping on grass that hasn't been shaved to within an inch of its life, your feet will get wet walking through it before the dew dries off. We now keep spare wellies in most sizes on site for people who have forgotten their own!'

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