We have just returned from a long weekend away camping with friends in the New Forest (GIFTED) where our children ran and climbed and jumped and balanced and paddled and generally had some proper old school outdoor fun.
Meanwhile we all sat and chatted and read and generally did some unwinding away from our hectic lives while Buddy the dog carried on with his usual activities of sniffing and licking and running and barking and sleeping, just in a different environment.
What was particularly wonderful was watching our autistic youngest play freely and happily.
He is often too anxious to play outside, to join in the other kids playing games in our close. He likes the idea of inviting people round to play but doesn't actually seem to like it mostly if I do actually arrange for someone to come. And as many SEN parents know invitations to play, to parties or for tea are few and far between so he spends a lot of time relying on his siblings or us for company.
Luckily the friends we were travelling with have lovely children he is comfortable and familiar with so even though their usual consoles were not available they soon got into camping mode and played battleships and badminton and spent hours exploring their surroundings.
Although I don't mind screen time it was lovely to hear snippets of their conversations which didn't just relate to gaming, TikTok or YouTube. I particularly enjoyed the discussion, if you could be half animal, which half animal would you be and why?
We were staying at the Camping in the Forest Hollands Wood Campsite, near Brockenhurst in the New Forest as guests of The Camping and Caravanning Club and as always from the moment we arrived the staff lived up to the club's strap-line, "the friendly club"
As well as letting us know the standard health, safety and social rules and handing us a map the warden who greeted us also let us know about the birth of a cute donkey foal in a nearby village. Another warden helpfully told us how to extend our booking for the afternoon so we could go out for Sunday lunch before heading to the hell that is the M25 at the end of half term.
We have stayed at a Camping in the Forest site before - the equally lovely Ashurst campsite, just up the road from Brockenhurst. Last time we were in our tent but this time we went in our "new to us" caravan. Both have merits but I have to say now in my 50's I did appreciate the home from home comfort of our built in double bed and en suite. Plus there seemed to be far less crouching, especially for my 6 foot tall husband!
The Camping in the Forest scheme was born out of partnership between Forestry England and Forestry and Land Scotland. There are 16 sites across the country all with direct access to woodland and some amazing walks.
The site we chose this time, Hollands Wood, doesn't have electric hookups but we have a decent leisure battery if we needed power and anyway, wanted to spend most of our time outside with our friends who had hired motorhomes.
Despite the site being busy because of the combination of half term holidays, the recent relaxation of lockdown rules and fabulous weather, we managed to find a sun-dappled glade with the view of roaming ponies (and children) where we could form a corral.
There's so much to do in and around the New Forest for every budget from beach days to city shopping trips, walks and bike rides-you can even hire tandems and electric bikes. Lots of traditional fun which even our tech-loving kids enjoyed.
|Pic by Lawrence Trowbridge|
There are a variety of wonderful places to eat and drink. In Brockenhurst, about a 20 minute walk from the campsite, we found a lovely shop selling amazing home made celebration cakes, drinks and locally produced ice-creams including a vegan salted caramel flavour, a real treat for this dairy intolerant ice cream lover.
We had tried to book in advance for the 12 of us in a couple of the local pubs but had no luck. However being in the right place at the right time saw us enjoy a wonderful evening at The Snakecatcher in Brockenhurst. Kid and dog friendly with garden areas front and back and a nice wooden play frame for younger children.
It was such a wonderful break and thankfully we have another couple of short staycations booked. You might not be able to book a UK cottage, yurt or resort for love nor money but if you are prepared to be flexible you can still book camping breaks through The Camping and Caravan Club.
Members get a discount on camping and access to member only sites, rallies and social events. There are also discounts on partners like some well known outdoor stores, events and other perks. You don't even have to own camping gear as some sites have pre-erected Ready Camp safari tents available.
We are booked on a certified site near Gloucester to see friends and watch the balloons at Cheltenham Balloon fiesta at the end of the month, and in July we are off to a site in Moreton in Dorset just a short drive to the coast.
We may not be able to easily travel abroad but there's so much of the UK to explore it seems a shame not to take this opportunity to admire the beauty on our own doorstep. We are looking forward to a summer of unplugged fun - although I will be packing the tablet just in case the novelty of traditional fun wears off occasionally or rain stops play.