by Petroc Dalrymple, The Telegraph, August 11, 2017
If, like me, you have an aversion to theme parks, packaged tours, and Center Parcs, but are nonetheless charged with finding a short UK break to entertain young children, the word “glamping” has a superficial appeal. Re-establishing primeval bonds with family and nature in a fairytale world without Facebook, Netflix or fast food: what’s not to like?
But for the undecided, a moment’s reflection cautions that it cannot all be running through sunny meadows of wild flowers and gathering around fairylit bell tents as dusk approaches. It will rain, won’t it? We’ll be smelly and miserable. We’ll drown in mud, the children won’t sleep and we will be bored to death in the evenings, won’t we?
All glamping is not created equal
A master in this field is committed eco-host Edmund Colville. A couple of hours’ drive north of London, in a site of Special Scientific Interest near Swaffham and Fakenham, lies West Lexham, Colville’s 21-acre patch of pastoral Norfolk. Centred round a substantial 18th century pile, he has built a veritable village of bell tents and tree houses, spread out graciously in quirky corners of this sweepingly rural estate. Each oozes careful thought and individual charm with coloured cushions, hippy throws and those ubiquitous fairy lights.
Quercus is at tree-top level
The treehouses are insulated, cosy and (in some cases) have fully fitted bathrooms. One is accessible by wheelchair. Enormous efforts have been made to recycle, upcycle and repurpose stripped down old furniture or driftwood to form bathroom cabinets, doors and internal stairs that blend in. By the lake, under a willow tree or hidden in woodland, each rustic residence has privacy and tranquillity in spades.
So what about those nagging doubts?
First, and most importantly for us urban non-purists, there is no need to worry about the personal grooming issue. A new pagoda-style bathroom block has five individual bathrooms that would not disgrace a boutique hotel in Chelsea. Each has a power shower, underfloor heating and limitless hot water, thanks to the biomass boiler that lies at the heart of this venture. There is even a capacious bath for those needing a soak.
And those long boring evenings?
A communal outdoor kitchen equipped with pizza oven, stoves and industrial fridges supplies everything you could need for an entertaining evening al fresco. The spread of outside tables around a massive fire-pit will do much to facilitate the making of friends.
If you can maintain basic hygiene, everything else about glamping is a pleasure
But, as a glamp-sceptic, what caught my attention was the two new additions to the portfolio. Quercus and Tilia are treehouses on a different scale – of size and luxury. Both have been crafted from sustainably sourced and reclaimed timber. Each sleeps six in a cavernous vaulted space, 12 feet off the ground. Interestingly, the beds gather a bit like a wagon circle around the curved kitchen; despite the luxury, this is still a holiday designed to maximise time out-of-doors and, while you might read a book in bed, the absence of a sitting room will prompt your family to look outwards for fun.
Everything is handmade, to a standard that manages to be personal and quirky as well as reliable. So beds are a magical architecture of hazel poles, forming a canopied four-poster over supremely comfortable mattresses and crisp white sheets. The shower room is immaculate, with heated towel rail and double-glazed windows. And the spacious terrace puts you in the canopy of the surrounding trees for sundowners eye-to-eye with squirrels and the gently cooing wood pigeons.
Taking care of the basics
But what really marks each out, beyond the luxurious shower room, is the kitchen. Thus we enter a whole new level of treehouse glamping. The log burning range cooker, fridge, kettle, cafetiere and toaster turn a fairytale play area into a practical and comfortable home. Central heating ensures even the fussiest four-year-old has nothing to complain about if the nights get cold. For those not quite ready for the whole communal glamping experience – or just needing to get the kids to bed on time – the internal kitchen opens the door to a new, bucolic world.
We spent a morning rowing a boat up and down the lake, walking amid the trees and exploring the extensive gardens. Then we set off for nearby Holkham beach (about 30 minutes away) where we paddled and collected shells along the vast plain of sand – surely England’s finest – and clambered in the dunes.
Nearer our woodland home, we stopped in on English Heritage-run Castle Acre, where the village nestles around the remains of a medieval manor and a ruined priory. The children loved working out what all the rooms were for (and how the monks’ lavatories must have worked).
Returning to West Lexham, we ascended our staircase into the trees and eased into a late afternoon nap before lighting up our range cooker and settling into a firelit supper.
West Lexham Manor, Nr. Kings Lynn, Norfolk PE32 2QN
01760 755 602