I briefly gave my opinions as to why ‘glamping’ rose in popularity during the 21st century in my other piece entitled “The History of Camping as a Leisure Activity in Britain” but thought the topic warranted a more in depth look at the tents themselves and the campsites and people behind it.
Although campsites themselves started popping up all around the UK during the roaring 20’s the modern definition of a ‘glamping campsite’, defined as: ‘A form of camping involving accomodation and facilities more luxurious than those associated with traditional camping’ is a fairly modern phenomenon that started to take shape during the 90’s.
One of the earliest traditional tent campsites in the UK is Cornish Tipi Holidays. Brain child of Elizabeth Tom and Alan Berry it opened its doors in 1996 and offers 16 acres of woodland camping in traditional Sioux tipi tents that circle a lake. The ethos was and still is ‘to offer our guests a really sustainable holiday. A return to real camping with the lowest possible impact on the land and environment’
Their meaning of real camping is a primal definition, encapsulated by their encouragement of real wood fires and the cooking of rainbow trout caught from the lake over them. The tipi tents offered by Cornish Tipi Holidays further extend their primal definition of ‘real camping’. Whereas modern poly tents have been designed by computer possibly a couple of years earlier using all the latest materials and technology, today’s modern tipis are still cut to the same pattern that were used on the great plains. The design has not changed or been bettered in any way in over a thousand years and all of the materials, from the ropes, canvas, poles and pegs are all natural materials.
The ethos of a sustainable campsite using traditional tents appeared to set the blue print for other campsite owners to follow. Devon based YurtCamp opened its doors a few years later offering 20 traditional yurts set in 40 acres of woodland. Although the tents are different, the ethos is the same; a beautiful, natural setting that you are free to explore and enjoy as you please, be it the rope swings slung from branches, collecting tadpoles from the ponds onsite or sitting around the fire pits long into the night. During its 15 years of trading YurtCamp has proved to be very popular. I believe the reason behind this is that people inherently want to live very simply in nature. Traditional camping has always offered this but for people who do not want to give up the luxuries of modern life, campsites like Cornish Tipi Holidays and YurtCamp have provided an excellent alternative.
Following the success of the early traditional tent campsites in the 90’s, the following decade saw a rapid increase in their numbers. Although I have been unable to find any official numbers ukcampsite.co.uk now lists over 300 ‘specialist campsites’ (campsites with erected tents, yurts, tipis and pods) with 62 in Cornwall alone. This meteoric rise can be attributed to standard campsites (where you bring your own tent) changing direction and now offering pre erected bell tents, cabins, pods etc and also farmers and land owners diversifying.
As well as an increase in specialist campsites in the nougties the type of structure became much more inventive and imaginative. George Clark in ‘Amazing Spaces’ covered the restoration of a beautiful 1960’s bus by the owners Rob and Layla that they call ‘the majestic bus’. The owners themselves live completely of grid and the bus is their way of sharing their life style. Solar panels provide electricity, the bus is heated by a wood burner and organic vegetables are grown all around the vicinity. Everything from the wood floor, to the book shelves and furnishings were either restored or made by hand by the owners. In their own words:
‘A loving restoration has turned the well-worked 60s vehicle into a cosy bolthole, giving it a second lease of life and a whole new look with soft wood-colours and homely fabrics’
Although the ethos of a sustainable holiday in a traditional tent/structure has continued right up to the present day by people like Rob and Layla, in some instances there has been a move away from its roots with the emphasis being heavily weighted on the side of ‘glamour’ rather than camping. For £1000 a night you can now stay in a ‘tree house studio suite’ complete with under floor heating, wide screen TV, Sonos music system and outdoor terrace hot tub. No doubt enjoyable, but in my humble opinion staying in a tree house so large it dwarfs the trees in its vicinity somewhat misses the point almost as much as watching Coutryfile on the wide screen TV whilst squirrels run around the branches of the canopy opposite.
To wrap up, traditional tent camping which has now evolved into ‘glamping’ has done wonders for the revival of traditional tents. Except for my back packing tents (mostly used for wild camping) I have only ever owned or camped in traditional canvas tents. Apart from their obvious advantage as anybody who has moved back to canvas camping (after being backed alive as soon as the sun comes up) setting up a modern poly tent in a beautiful natural environment seems to very jarring to the landscape, where as canvas tents based on traditional designs (without wanting to sound overly wafty) almost appear to be organically part of it. Although I feel the ethos first laid down by the likes of Cornish tipi Holidays has be somewhat trivialised by ‘studio suite’ structures that are as far removed from camping as a toy fox terrier from it wolf ancestor, there are still hundreds of quirky little structures out there all offering low impact holidays in a natural environment. With the comfort now on offer I also feel glamping has attracted people and families to it who may never have wanted to camp in the past and in this fast paced, 4g fibre optic world anything that helps people to re connect with the nature can only be hugely positive.