'Glamping' in the United Kingdom's New Forest

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October 6, 2009 by   - () Leave a Comment

Editor's Note: From across the pond comes this story on "glamping" or glamorous camping in the United Kingdom's New Forest. The New Forest is an area of southeast England which includes the largest remaining tracts of unenclosed pasture land, heathland and forest in the heavily-populated region. While some British references may be lost on American readers, the idea of glamorous rings true. This story by Becky Gardiner and photo first appeared in The Guardian.


Camping tent in the United Kingdom's New Forest.

Camping tent in the United Kingdom's New Forest.

This tent, deep in the heart of the New Forest, is not like any I have seen before. It has real rooms for a start, and beds with pillows and duvets and crisp white sheets. It has an oil-burning stove for when the nights get chilly, and the canvas walls can be rolled up if the weather gets hot. There are stubby candles in pretty lanterns and electric lights with bamboo shades (the wiring is the old-fashioned kind, brown and twisted). The furniture is made from gnarled but polished wood. Outside, there's a toilet hidden inside a rickety grass-roofed shack, and a second, smaller tent where you can shower in a wooden tub under the stars. And all around, there is nothing but dense forest.

I've never seen anything like it, and yet I have a strong sense of deja vu. Then I get it: I have been transported back to the Saturday morning TV of my childhood; if this tent were up a tree, it could be the very place where Johnny Weissmuller's Tarzan got all domestic with Jane.

They call it a Country House Hideout, and it is the brainchild of a Dutchman, Luite Moraal, and his British partner, Mark Gordon. The two met when they were working for Disney theme parks. Moraal left to open a string of upmarket campsites on farms in Holland, and the two men lost touch until, some years later, Moraal asked Gordon to help him bring the concept to the UK. Feather Down Farms was born.

It was a simple idea – big comfortable tents, with beds and flushing toilets, sited on working farms and "themed" as a farmhouse. The British middle class lapped it up. So much so, Gordon tells me, that although the chain was only launched in 2006, it has already "reached capacity" (there are only so many suitable farms with enough space to be had, he says). If the business was to keep on growing, Gordon needed a new concept.

The central idea – a luxurious tent in a beautiful setting – remained the same, but out went the mismatched chairs and homely cake tins and in came a new set of props: a wind-up gramophone, a telescope, an old-school microscope, a penknife, a compass and a ball of string. Country House Hideouts, Gordon explains, hark back to the Great Age of Exploration; when he kitted out the tents, he simply "imagined Livingstone and Stanley, and how they might have lived."

It's best not to think too hard about this – forget Stanley's brutal treatment of the Africans or Livingstone's missionary zeal. Country House Hideouts offers a nostalgic fantasy of Imperial England, when great explorers went to "dark continents" and got up to, well, all sorts of brave stuff. If Cath Kidston was the inspiration for Feather Down Farms, The Dangerous Book for Boys is the defining idea here.

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