I vowed never to go camping again – until I pitched up in North Wales


Camping in North Wales on a spring bank holiday weekend. Brave, or foolish, I wondered as I looked at the weather forecast – rain, every single day.

The last time I went camping was on a Girl Guides weekend, aged around 12. This involved staying a few miles from home in ancient forest-green canvas tents with lots of out of tune singing around the campfire. Never again, although I have broken my vow out of the necessity that festivals bring, spending as little time as possible in and around my tent.

Like many people this year, I wanted to go on holiday but instead of spending a small fortune on flights and a hotel in Europe, I opted for a long weekend at a bouji campsite that cost less than £100 for two of us. I’m not the only one looking for a more affordable holiday. Compared to five years ago, bookings are up 144 per cent on camping portal, Pitchup.com.

Bert’s Kitchen Garden nis situated on the Welsh coastline (Photo: Simon Bray)

The pandemic caused a surge, when borders were closed and staycations ruled, though camping is far from being a fleeting stop gap in holiday trends. Dan Yates, founder of Pitchup.com says: “Many people will have experienced a night under canvas for the first time in 2020 and 2021”, adding that its affordability “at a point in time when many people are experiencing a significant squeeze on household budgets” is a key factor in happy campers returning each year.

However, to persuade myself to go back to basics, it couldn’t just be any campsite. It needed to have an edge – not just a hot tub or a string of bell tents – and that place for me was Bert’s Kitchen Garden, which is worlds away from even the most luxurious of glamping sites.

It’s on North Wales’ Llŷn Peninsula, which flies under the radar compared to the likes of the Gower Peninsula despite its long sandy bays, rolling fields with bounding lambs and winding lanes that cascade and fall.

It’s here that Bert’s sits within the historic quarry village of Trefor, on an old farm beneath the six Yr Eifl peaks and next to the pebbly Trefor beach. Its setting sealed the deal for owners Ali and Ian Paice, whose requirements included sea and mountains and had scoured the UK’s entire coastline to find it. They opened in 2017 after four years travelling the world with their children in an old bus named Bert, which now lovingly forms part of the restaurant.

Bert's Kitchen Garden Opens ?Beachside?, A New Dining Space on Trefor Beach Wales Image via Hugh - Julia Spence PR
Roaming free at Bert’s Kitchen Garden in Wales (Photo: Simon Bray)

It’s their appreciation of nature that’s formed the backbone of the site. Dotted with trees, bushes, and plenty of willow, there are 40 crop circle shaped pitches mowed into long grassy meadows that buzz with life.

Across 13 acres, the mostly off-grid site has hot showers with green toiletries, composting toilets, recycling bins, tree swings and an old tractor to play on. For those who don’t want to camp, there’s a cottage in the old piggery and shepherd’s huts.

The highlight is the namesake kitchen garden, which is full of fruit, veg, herbs and flowers, and the rustic restaurant (and bar) uses much of its produce for its homemade pizzas. There’s also a pantry with free tea and coffee and even fridges, though we wanted to test our true camping spirit and only used the coolbox.

We were camping in the meadow in a newly-purchased, half-price orange A-frame tent, but the other areas (by the river, in the woods and by the beach which also has a converted shipping container cafe known as Beachside) are so well hidden that I barely knew they were there until I hunted them out.

Camping at Bert's Kitchen Garden, North Wales' Ll?n Peninsula Image supplied by Emma Henderson
Emma’s new orange tent was home for the weekend (Photo: Supplied)

The site is on the edge of Eryri National Park, an International Dark Sky Reserve so stargazing is excellent here. However, that too relies on good weather. Looking at the forecast, I was beginning to worry that our holiday would be a weekend of sitting inside a tent, or the car. Unrelenting rain means that camping becomes more of an endurance test – wrestling off wellies while trying not to transfer congealed muddy grass into the tent and losing all hope of getting a fire going.

Luckily for me, the bank holiday sun gods took pity on my rookie trip, as – just like festival camping – I woke up early, feeling hot and sticky. Yes, it was sunny. This time though, all I could hear was chirping birds as I unzipped the tent.

Tea was still the first order of my day, though it’s a more laboured task while camping – even lighting the Trangia stove was a challenge as the storm proof matches took an alarmingly long time to spark into life in dry weather, let alone a storm. Finally, my mug of tea was an achievement to be savoured slowly, in the sunshine.

For the rest of the day, we explored the length of Trefor beach, then headed south along the peninsula to the lovely Ty Coch Inn, which faces the sea and can only be reached on foot.

Come evening, the campfire came into play. There’s something wholesome and primal about making a fire, keeping it going, and sitting around it chatting, without interruptions from screens. It took me back to the campfire at Guide camp – though this time without the made-up dance routine to Backstreet Boys.

The weather turned in our favour for the rest of the weekend, though ultimately the gamble turned out to be part of the fun. Finally, I’d learned the joys of proper camping as an adult, though I’m not sure I’m ready for back-to-basics camping just yet.

Bert’s Kitchen Garden has pitches from £24pp per night (£10 per child, under threes free), The Piggery (sleeping two) from £175 per night, and shepherd’s huts, from £175 (sleeping two/four).

Three more rustic-luxe campsites

Carry Farm, Argyll

One for the adventurous camper, this water’s edge site asks guests to arrive without a car, so think cycling, walking, kayaking or sailing. The farm, near the village of Tighnabruaich on Scotland’s West Coast, is also home to Hebridean sheep, donkeys, pygmy goats, free range chickens and ducks, who even provide eggs for sale.

Pitches are among ancient woodlands and wildflowers with unbroken views across the Kyles to the island of Bute. If you’re lucky, you might spot a red squirrel or better yet, the Northern Lights as the area’s known for its dark skies. There are toilets, showers and a washing area. Pitches from £15pp.

Stud Farm Camping, East Sussex

In the historic South Downs village of Telscombe, just a 30-minute walk from the coast at Peacehaven and Saltdean, is Stud Farm. As the name suggests it once bred horses for racing and is now an organic working farm, producing its own lamb, pork, sausages and eggs which it creates its own barbecue and breakfast hampers for campers to cook on site with.

Choose your own pitch out of the 25. There’s warm water and flushing loos, but no electric hookups or hot power showers. If you prefer a pre-set up tent, book one of the eight individually themed bell tents, which are also dog friendly. Pitches from £22 for up to two.

Lordstones, North Yorkshire

Keen walkers will love this woodland campsite. It has generously sized pitches with views over the rolling North Yorkshire moors and plenty of rambling routes nearby. Toilets are pretty flash and electrical hookups are available, as are glamping pods and Mongolian style yurts. For those worried they’ll forget the essentials, there’s a well-stocked farm shop with plenty of local produce, including meat from the neighbouring farm. Or for those who prefer to let someone else do the cooking, there’s a cafe and the Belted Bull restaurant which dishes up steaks, tacos and burgers – and it’s popular with locals, too. Pitches from £25 a night for two people.

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