A good campsite can make or break nights away under canvas. A good site and you have an excellent family adventure. A bad site, and well, may be time to move on.
The problem is, what one person considers a good campsite, others consider a nightmare.
We’ve stayed at all sorts of sites, from those with all the facilities, amusements, and evening entertainment, to those that are nothing more than a field (or forest, or beach)….almost Wild Camping.
Most people new to camping go for the former, probably subconsciously not wanting to leave home comforts. I urge you to go for the latter. That’s our choice. That should be your choice too, and here’s why.
What’s wrong with large campsites?
Here’s a true story. One long weekend in August (many years ago) the forecast near where we live was going to be wet. Very wet. However, on the east coast, sunshine was promised. So, we headed off to Skegness – somewhere we’ve never been but Google was reporting many campsites. Armed with addresses and phone numbers, off we went on a long drive.
The sort of places we had on our list? The ones with lots of a facilities, play parks, amusements, shop, café, etc.
It was packed.
Despite ringing ahead, by the time we got there our pitch had been given away. Site after site we tried.
“This looks nice”, we said as we hopefully approached another site. “We’re very full” they said, “but you can fit in if you can find a space between the other tents”.
We found some space, and although fairly close to others, not too close we thought. It was getting late and we got the tent up.
Then others arrived. And then more.
There was little space for people to put the tent pegs in – it was that close.
The entertainment was busy and noisy. The kids loved the bouncy castle slide, but it soon turned bad with older kids getting out of control (and drunk).
Eventually a number of dads started fighting.
Noise was going on all night as people were still up “partying” and kids crying. When your tents are that close, you hear everything!
And as for the facilities? They couldn’t cope.
It was one of the few sites that had a bath (in the ladies). However, with the toilets blocking up, it had been used as a communal toilet (for number twos).
People started becoming very ill on site (diarrhoea and vomiting), which just added to the problem of overloaded toilets.
Don’t get me wrong, not all sites of this elk are bad. I’m sure the site we stayed at is excellent when not so full. However, that weekend the site owners had £ signs in their eyes and accepted far too many campers.
What else is wrong with large sites?
Many of them have rules. Lots of rules (though as in my previous story, are only enforced when the owner feels like it).
Rules aren’t a problem on their own, but sometimes they’re enforced with little compassion. I’ve known people who’ve had to move their tent an inch or two. Someone else I know was telling me that they had booked two pitches next to one another, were told to move their tent as their surname was meant to be in the pitch next to the one with their tent in. Both pitch the same size. And who was meant for the second pitch? His brother-in-law’s family with exactly the same tent!
It’s hassle you could do without.
And of course: no fires, and on some sites, no BBQs either.
Along with the rules are the fees, and further fees.
Pitches tend to be expensive. Increased charges for larger tent sizes. Extra for family sized cars. Trailers extra. Porches extra. Gazebos extra.
Camping should be fun, relaxing, and not costing a fortune.
Just go to the web sites of some large well known “brands”. Put in family tent and car details and for the same price you could be staying at a nice hotel short break with theme park tickets for the same price.
And now the contrast
We are so lucky in this country, that even though we are statistically very crowded, we are not far from great countryside. And in this countryside are a great many excellent camp sites.
They tend to be small and relatively cheap.
They are relaxed – they don’t care on tent size, extra porches, and you can often pitch where you want (within reason of course!).
They are often in great locations.
They are generally well spaced out.
It feels like camping in the wild, and kids will love it.
Facilities can sometimes be basic, but all that you need (they are not always basic, and we’ve stayed at some with excellent facilities).
Kids often have space to explore safely and go off and have fun.
They often allow camp fires. Real camping that kids love.
There’s no music at night. No fighting. And often no lights. Just the moon and stars – or clouds in the UK
They have rules. Often they don’t want everyone being kept up all night, and they’ll want fires in the right place (or off the ground in a fire pit), but that’s it.
You can set camp and get on with enjoying life.
Where to find these excellent sites?
Obviously the best way to find a good site is through word of mouth. Here on Get Out With The Kids we’ve listed great family campsites that we’ve been to or others have recommended.here.
You can filter to find ‘back-to-basics’ campsites that allow campfires, to holiday parks with swimming pools and entertainment.
BTW, if this has whetted your appetite for a real camping experience, check out how to improve your camp food with our guide getting started with a Dutch Oven.
Do you have a campsite story to share?
If so, drop us a note below.