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Tuesday, 02 September 2014

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Happy campers

CAMPING in the Lake District is no longer just about pitching a tent in the rain or squeezing into a cramped caravan. KARL STEEL reports on a night of luxury in a yurt

WHAT is not to love about camping? Picking the perfect location in the most picturesque surroundings, the sense of achievement when you’ve finally hammered in that last guy rope, and huddling round a fire just to keep warm.

It’s usually when you’ve spent two hours in torrential rain trying to stop the tent from blowing away whilst hammering pegs into rock-solid ground with a walking boot or a wooden spoon, that you remember why you haven’t been camping for years.

The challenge of getting back to nature, and the adventures that come with it, usually makes sacrificing warmth and comfort worthwhile in the end – but not everyone wants their holiday to be challenging.

Some people want to enjoy their venture into the great outdoors whilst enjoying a few home comforts too.

It is for these people that “glamping” has been created.

The words “glamour” and “camping” were never meant to meet, but now they’ve been forced together it turns out that they were made for each other.

More and more visitors to the Lakes are experimenting with less-conventional accommodation in a bid to find the perfect balance between the two – log cabins, tipis, and even the half-acorn-like wooden pods are all becoming popular alternatives to the traditional tents and common caravans, as well as the one type of holiday home that has made the term glamping its own, a yurt.

Used throughout the world as a portable house, yurts are halfway between a tent and a cabin, traditionally made with a felt cover and a wooden frame.

Alex Fleming, an IT worker from Bristol, started up his own business last month, hiring out a yurt on the shores of Windermere.

Having lived in one for a year, he knew that it would appeal to anyone looking for a hassle-free vacation in one of the most glorious locations in the country.

“I was made redundant at the end of last year, and I knew I wanted to do something different,” he said.

“My wife Donna is originally from Ulverston, and she moved up here in 2008 with the two kids so my eldest, Ruby, could start school.

“At that time I knew redundancy was a possibility so I hung on down south and I built and lived in a yurt for a year to keep living expenses to a minimum.

“I’ve been living up here for about eight months now and it feels like the right decision.

“Living in a yurt is something really special – getting back to basics, and forgetting the usual rat race of life can be very nourishing.”

That’s me sold.

Obviously though, I couldn’t just take Alex’s word for it, so one weekend earlier this month, myself and three of my fellow reporters decided that the best way to get the low-down on glamping was to experience it for ourselves.

We made the short journey into the heart of the Lake District to Low Wray Camp Site, just outside Ambleside, with the aim of spending a midsummer’s night in a luxury yurt.

Alex’s business, which is currently a single large yurt, and soon set to double with another being constructed nearby, is called Wild in Style.

And we quickly realised just how appropriate that name is – the weather was certainly wild, with an unseasonal downpour confining us to the cozy bamboo cottage for the duration of our stay; and there can be no better word than “style” to describe an evening spent sipping elderflower champagne in front of a roaring log fire.

The first thing that strikes you about the yurt is just how spacious it is. Here was a circular space with room enough for two fold-away double beds and a single camp bed, a dining table and chairs, a storage cabinet and camping cooker, and a wood-burning stove – aside from the toilet and shower block a few hundred yards away, everything you need for a break away is housed within this 18ft hut.

But never does it feel cramped, with a skylight in the roof giving it a light, airy feel.

All the usual problems of camping in such woeful weather were removed: lighting the hobs; keeping firewood dry; getting a face-full of rainwater every time you unzip the front door for a quick toilet trip; all because of the solidity of the structure, which didn’t give an inch despite howling winds that seemed to border on hurricane.

Although you wouldn’t know it, sat playing cards with drink in hand and the radio drowning out the noise.

Only when it was bedtime – when the wind-up radio had died off, the candles had blown out, and the wood-burner had been stoked for the final time – did we become aware of the outside world once again.

Nodding off with feet being lightly toasted by the fire, the sound of the rain battering the skylight brought it all back and it felt like camping once again.

Only warmer.

It’s easy to get a good night’s sleep when you’re not on a lumpy roll-mat or sliding towards the bottom of the tent.

Morning saw no let-up to the conditions on the other side of the canvas walls, so after bacon butties and a quick tidy up it was time to leave.

As promised, it was a welcome break from the norm, even though there was no opportunity to go down to the lake – literally a stone’s throw away – or the local pub a short walk from the camp site.

This weather can only be expected of the Lake District, and that’s what makes it an adventure.

There’s so much to do in such a magnificent setting, it’s just a shame it rained.

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