Every year on the weekend nearest to my birthday I go away for one or two nights with the tent. Whilst it’s good to get out, the main driver is the fact that my daughter’s birthday is 3 days after mine and she somehow manages to pull rank when it comes to any parties scheduled for the weekend. As her birthday celebrations usually involve a gang of giggling girls staying over in the house, the tent is actually the best place to be. Not that I’m given any choice…This “tradition” started 5 years ago in the midst of my 3 months off work. With no time constraints in terms of work, when I heard my daughter was having a birthday party at home, the idea of snatching a couple of days away somewhere hilly quickly sprang up, and familial female buy-in was also swift. So as soon as my son got home from school on the Friday, we were in the car and headed west. We camped in the Vale of Elwys and next day I spent my birthday on a 17 ½ mile walk in the Black Mountains. Cue predictable jokes about Lord Hereford’s Knob.
At that point I didn’t realise that I’d started off something that would become pretty much an annual fixture. But we haven’t had to go as far as Wales again. We’ve spent a night next to the River Medway which was memorable for the fact that each pitch had its own oil drum for a real fire, the melting of my Trangia kettle handle and the England-USA football match listened to on the car radio. Last year, after a 5 year hiatus in the walk, I resumed the North Downs Way at Knockholt and we combined the first day’s walking with the birthday camp. That camp was on an uninspiring site just outside Wrotham and was memorable for the hour long uninterrupted lecture about campervans from a fellow resident. Oh yes, and the (almost) carbon monoxide poisoning incident, due to the inadvisability of cooking sausages on a Trangia inside a sealed tent. Using cider as we had no oil or fat for the pan. Don’t do it (both the cider thing, and especially the inside cooking thing).
Now, both of last year’s incidents could have been avoided if the place we stayed this year had been open. We certainly wouldn’t have had the campervan bloke and the trees we camped under would, more than likely, have kept enough rain off that we’d have cooked outside. But it wasn’t open, and more’s the pity as it is located exactly where we really needed it to be last year.
Badgell’s Wood Campsite only opened last weekend, and they had nearly 50 bookings for what was Jubilee weekend. That’s pretty good going considering that by most measures of camp site standards it wouldn’t even register on the facilities scale. The toilets are a row of portaloos and there’s no drinking water. The washing up station is probably the most luxurious of the facilities, and that’s largely because the Fairy liquid was supplied.
But all of this is missing the real point about this site. Badgells Wood is part of a venture called Real Camping, it’s all about finding your own spot somewhere in amongst the trees and doing away with all of the unnecessary extra faff that so many campsites have. You know the sort of thing – bars, manicured pitches and the need for night-time silence rules. The formula is simple – you drive up and park then explore the woods to find your own spot. If you want a campfire then so much the better – all they ask is that you have it on the spot that’s already been used. I reckon this is about as close to wild camping as it’s possible to get on an actual camp site.
The site opened last week but was actually shut when I called to make a booking for this weekend. That’s because they’re still working on the site and in this first year of operation are only opening for a few days over the summer. But they were happy to take us as quite frankly they could do with the exposure. So yes, I did have to promise to write a review, which quite frankly I would have done anyway, but the upside was a cost-free experience.
We turned up on the Saturday afternoon and spent a few minutes chatting to the proprietor and the couple managing the site. Then we were off to find ourselves a spot. With rucksacks on our backs and tents under our arms we forged a path through the woods following what appeared to be forest paths but which soon turned out to be brambly traps for unwary feet. After ruling out a couple of small muddy clearings, we emerged into a clear patch around a large prominent tree with some promising spots around the edge. David opted for a spot to the south east of the tree behind some brambles and thin trees while I went for a Monica-sized patch opening off the western side of the clearing.
Up went the tents and I was glad I’d brought the v-pegs with me due to the soft ground. Even so, a bit of repositioning was needed due to lack of bite of the pegs, but I got it eventually. A bit of care was also needed as Monica has quite a thin groundsheet and was pitched on top of various loose twigs and nettles. I then went across to inspect David’s pitch which resulted in general tightening of guys and pegging out the full footprint of the tent. A return trip to the car for essentials (chairs, food and cider) and we soon had the camp up and running.
We sat there for a while enjoying the peace, broken only by birdsong and the occasional rustle of the branches above us. I even got positive comments from No. 1 Child about it.
Hunger stirred us from our relaxation and moments later the Trangia was on. After last year’s disaster with the bangers I’d modified the recipe slightly, opting to use some vegetable oil rather than cider as pan lubricant. And after pretty much wrecking the lid/frying pan of the Trangia last year, it was also time to bring my new non-stick Trangia frying pan into service. The combination of proper pan and proper lubricant worked well, and minutes later a whole pack of pork and leek had disappeared, washed down by cups of tea and followed by a whole lemon and cream swiss roll.
Then more enjoying the silence before, feeling mischievous, I suggested a game of hide and seek. The boy hurtled off through the trees, jinking left and right like a gazelle being chased by a hungry lion, and was soon hidden from view. Now for phase 2. I sat back down and picked up my book, playing the old “send the child to hide and see how long it takes them to realise you’re not coming” routine. Twenty minutes passed and I had a feeling. I stood up and did a 360. A small light patch representing a teenager’s face was poking through the leaves about a 100 feet behind where I had been sitting. He’d worked his way round without being seen with the aim of launching a surprise attack. Darn, he’d realised what I was up to. I waved at the face and saw the “he’s just doing that randomly, he hasn’t actually seen me” look. So I pulled my camera out and pointed it directly at the face. He sprang from his hidey hole and headed off left. A few minutes later it was clear that he was approaching from the other side, and I thought this could go on all night. So beckoned him in.
The light was fading, especially as we were under the trees, and bedtime approached. We retired to our tents for the night where I found that I shouldn’t have left the inner open as it was full of midges. Unfortunately, I didn’t discover this fact until I was in my sleeping bag. I got down and tried to leave as little flesh showing as possible. I woke to birdsong and the gentle patter of moisture falling on the tent. My special camp porridge and a cup of coffee got us going. We struck camp and headed home.
This was easily the best of the birthday camps and that’s entirely down to the site. I’m not a lover of big sites or sites with too much in the way of family facilities. Give me a toilet and a tap and somewhere out of the wind to pitch and I’m sorted. This place didn’t even have the tap, at least not a drinking water tap. But we could have used the washing up tap and boiled it. We actually took a platypus of water from home and, being smart, a flask of boiled water to save time and fuel. This was more than enough for one night.
I understand that as the camp develops they will put in proper water – I don’t see how they could avoid it in all honesty. And there are plans for a more permanent toilet block – nothing flash, but a sort of log cabin affair – that’ll be a bit nicer than the current arrangements which are a bit reminiscent of Glastonbury. They’re also going to bark some paths and improve access to the back of the site ready for future expansion. That’ll bring things up to a standard that will make the place viable for the 50 pitch capacity they’re aiming for, but without spoiling the overall wild feel.
If you plan to visit the site, then I would suggest you make sure you have decent groundsheets because you will be pitching on the woodland floor with all its attendant twigs, leaves and bits of straggly brambles. But it’s worth heading deeper into the wood and avoiding the temptation to camp close to the car.
I can thoroughly recommend this site. It’s just what I need from a camp site. Not only that, but it’s perfectly positioned for the Wealdway and the North Downs Way, both of which run through or close to the edge of the wood. Indeed, the NDW is crying out for more camping facilities, and specifically here as I found it really difficult to plan a multi-day walk on this stretch because of lack of campsites. And that’s even taking into account that this is my “home” stretch of the NDW. The site’s not marked on OS maps yet, but can easily be found via their website: http://badgellswoodcamping.co.uk and they are also listed on http://www.ukcampsite.co.uk. Grid ref: TQ663622. They’re also on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/BadgellsWoodCamping
So endeth the birthday camp for another year.