Getting up close and personal with the great British countryside and the critters that make it their home has never been easier and more luxurious with the advent of Glamping- Glamorous Camping. Retaining the romance and freshness of outdoor camping whilst dispensing with the 3 a.m staggers to an outdoor toilet yards away and billy can baked beans, the Lanterns & Larks camp site set on a bucolic pasture in deepest Suffolk, provided us with a secluded, scenic break, luxury extras and a feeling of safety sometimes lacking in more traditional campsites.
Overlooking the copses, woods and deep valley cuts of Sweffling and the 16th century Sweffling Hall Farm (upon which it is sited), the four canvas tent lodges faced out over this greenest of views, interrupted only by the occasional foraging chicken and the farmhouse itself, tucked away to the right. A scenic drive through coastal, rural Suffolk passing roadside stands selling honey, eggs, fresh flowers, books and fruit meant we were already relaxed and happy as we bumped up the long track leading to the farm yard and car park. Met by Laura, one half of the Sweffling Farm couple – mistress of the chickens and manager of the campsite and B&B; we were shown around the site and enlightened as to the refrigeration system- clever hot water bottles full of ice, the eponymous rechargeable lanterns, an honesty shop selling fire lighters and basic food provisions and the wicker hampers filled with free to borrow toys and books. Bumping over the incline of the meadow upon which our tent lodge was sited, we could see a large expanse of space and sky and grass, offering parents a perfect 360 degree view of their gamboling children. If your kids are urban, they will probably stand frozen for a few moments like the farm chickens, unsure of what to do under that big dome of sky but before long they will be running- in fact they will run out of puff before they run out of space.
The four lodges (ours was christened Skylark) have their backs to the hedgerow and face out over the valley, all cream canvas, pale wooden porches and thick corded guy ropes. The effect is Safari but it works; the lodges don’t impact negatively upon this most English of landscapes at all and despite their newness, seem bedded in. Once the foliage grows in around them a little, they will gain more privacy from each other. But they are sited well apart- we heard nothing of the other guests apart from their dog- but more about that later.
From the high quality heavy duvets and piles of pillows in white cotton to the woollen throws and piles of cushions on the brushed felt sectional sofa, everything was super luxe yet practical. Leather upholstered safari seats, the heavy wooden dining table, kitchen units and bedside tables were all substantial and easy to move around with the bedrooms arranged around a central communal area. Bathrooms lit with solar LED lights that come on as you approach at night, clean and beautifully appointed with hot water shower and sinks in both the shower room and toilet meant there’d be no kitchen sink strip washes on this holiday.
The kitchen was off to the side and fully appointed with gas hob, hot and cold water, cooking pots, implements, utensils and plates, and a wicker basket packed with local produce, all personally chosen by Laura and included her own eggs, thick slabs of local bacon and tangles of sausages from Emmerdale Farms who told us that the pork was sourced from Metfield. The milk, tea, cornflakes, a bottle of Champagne, some gorgeous strawberry jam and high quality pasta made life so very easy for us- we did bring some of our own food but should you arrive here not having done so, it would not be a disaster- you are not going to starve. In addition, the honesty shop is full of Sweffling Farm Eggs.Those hard working ladies scratching around the tent are the source of those. Pretty sage green gingham check curtains covered the storage areas under the units- a source of delight for the baby who stowed herself away in them to play with the champagne bucket. Practical wooden floors, rugs to soften the impact upon bare feet and a super clean travel cot (ordered in advance) completed the rustic-luxe appointments.
For younger children, it is worth noting that there are gaps between the tent canvas and the flooring, notably where you walk onto the bathroom area and you will need to keep an eye out that your toddler doesn’t spend her time posting various items- wooden spoons, phones and keys down these gaps, alongside her own foot. Fortunately, this didn’t happen with our resident baby but we could see that parents might need warning of this fact and should they lose something, the first place to look should be under the tent!
Looking out over the valley as the shadows lengthened, we lit our fire pit (logs are supplied) and got the indoor wood burner going, zipping up the front door to keep the heat in. With a bench seating area for outdoor eating and cane armchairs and sofas on the porch decking, there is ample room for the biggest of families-we numbered four plus a newly walking baby. Cooking facilities are varied- there is the hob, the fire pit or the wood burner and all come with detailed instructions. Feeling a little guilty about eating the cold chicken we bought with us in front of their still living relatives who bobbed about in front of us, looking for bugs and taunting the baby with their sleight of foot, we wrapped our blankets (from home) around us and settled in for a night of wine drinking and quiet unwinding from a very stressful week. Unexpected drama arose from a barn fire in the village unfortunately; the approaching night was lit up by exploding gas canisters and the collapsing barn roof with flames shooting hundreds of feet into the valley air. A swift call to the emergency services confirmed that the fire trucks were on their way and we spent the rest of the evening watching the fire rage, a mile in the distance. The relief we felt upon hearing no human lives were lost was immense although the precarious livelihood of farmers was drummed home when we heard that over 150 goslings perished when their heat lamp malfunctioned- the cause of the blaze which razed the barn and a reminder to exercise great care around the fire pit, wood burner and where we disposed of spent matches.
Laura is typically resourceful, like every farmer we have ever met and when we met her she mentioned picking Elderflowers at dusk. Fathers day craft making was on offer in the barn whilst we were there; our baby was too small for such activities but clearly Laura has some great ideas about occupying small children and this makes the holiday doubly suitable for families, backed up by her lovely, helpful nature. Dogs on a lead are welcomed but guests need to accept that this is a working farm and the animals are not there as some kind of rustic decoration. We were very angry to see that the family in the neighbouring tent clearly thought that this rule (and there aren’t many!) didn’t apply to their Staffordshire dog and continually allowed it to roam, getting more and more laissez faire with regards to attentiveness, as the weekend elapsed. Finally the dog took its chances, hid under our tent (unbeknown to us) and attacked one of the farm’s chickens. We gave furious chase, managed to get the chicken away from the dog, apparently unscathed, and returned the dog to the family. Despite being told on several occasions to tether the dog, they continued to ignore this. Our advice? If you think your dog is the exception to the stay-on-a-lead- rule, don’t bring it.
If self sufficiency isn’t for you, the surrounding villages boast a plethora of options for eating out from the White Horse at Sweffling, just a short walk across the fields to further afield- we ate at the Star at Wenhaston and at the Flora Tearooms at Dunwich Beach. The campsite is perfectly situated for so many adventures, being near the Suffolk heritage coast, the nature reserves of Minsmere, the town of Ipswich is only 20 or so miles away and the countryside is criss-crossed with well marked trails and footpaths. To be honest though, we just wanted to sit in our tent or on our porch and watch the baby stagger around the field or go for wheelbarrow rides; these were provided for luggage conveyance but were soon used for bumping about over the tussocks of grass. Sitting out at night, the tent lit with the fairy lights wound around the ropes, lanterns illuminating the bedrooms, listening to the furious squabbling of badgers and the barks of nearby foxes, we were content. The baby was happy to poke her fingers into the cracked Suffolk clay of the meadow side, attempt to crawl onto the gravel covered underneath of the tent decking and forage for miscellaneous sticks in the hedgerow whilst her little legs powered her up and down the slope to the tent.
All in all we had a wonderful and restful stay, arranged by a company who gave us exemplary customer service. Our only regrets? not getting the time to chat to Laura for longer and having to leave. We highly recommend it for families, for anyone really.
We were the guests of Lantern & Larks but all views are our own