“Who wants a weekend camping?” I asked my family?
“We all do, but that means going without you” was the reply. Why? Because the idea of small tents, cold hard ground and sitting over a small spirit stove trying to make enough food for four in the rain, is anathema to me.
“Yes, with me, we’re going glamping”. We had a trip booked to Feather Down Farms in Layer Marney Tower, Essex.
So that Friday we packed up and drove down to leafy Essex. With great directions we found it easily, driving past the wonderful Layer Marney House and down a track, to be greeted by a very helpful lady, who showed us our lodge.
Feather Down Farm Layer Marney Tower Accommodation
And what a lodge it is – it reminded me of nothing more than the elegant and luxurious safari tents you get in Kenya. With wooden floors (fantastic – no mud!) and log-cabin like walls, and a canvas roof, you have a place that is sturdy enough to keep out the worst of the British weather, yet light and open enough to make you still feel that you are definitely under canvas.
What to describe first? I’ll go in age order. The children went straight to the box-bed (as they called it) – which is that, a full-sized double bed, which you climb into from the kitchen/ living area, through a hatch. Seriously cute and they were in there immediately. But that wasn’t it for them, the bunk beds took almost as much attention, as they’ve wanted them for ages.
Next me. For me it was the soft white sheets (camping with soft white sheets!) and the beautifully laid out kitchen area, with wonderfully carved furniture and a beautiful stove to cook on, and best of all, comfortable deck chairs on the veranda.
And Freddy – well he is practical and very British. So he thought first of drains. And that made him happy – the lavatory is inside. So no padding through the dark to do a pee, barefoot and cold. And a shower hut. Cleverly made up with a galvanised bucket under a hose (with warm water!), so that the water goes into the bucket which has holes in it, which then acts as the shower head.
Practicalities taken care of, the next thing was to make a cup of tea. And here we were suddenly in camping territory. Every lodge has an outdoor wood burning stove and you get a supply of logs from the farm. A quick rustle of newspaper and handful of kindling and smoke was rising up from our campsite. A few bigger logs and the kettle was on the stove, the smoke was whistling up the chimney and we were waiting. We watched the pot hard, but unlike the proverb, it did boil.
And the lovely thing about where we were is that we could turn the kids out and leave them. Off they went exploring. Through the woods and down to the barn where there was a ping-pong table and a table with paper and pencils for drawing. That took care of them until it was time to make supper.
Feather Down Farm Layer Marney Tower Farm Cooking
Cooking – Inside
You have both an inside and an outside wood-burning stove. With all the cooking equipment you could need – from frying pans to kettle to a cafetiere and a teapot. And a tap and a sink. This reminded me of back home in Sierra Leone – in order to cook or have hot water, you need to light the fire. But of course, with a stove like the one we had, it is easy.
There’s also a very efficient, insulated cool-box and you can pick up new ice packs from the honesty box down at the farm. The stove has enough room for two pots at a time, so cooking is pretty much like normal, but with the added tang of wood-smoke.
And washing up – well, if you make enough hot water, it is just like home too (so something for me to avoid and leave to everyone else).
Cooking – Outside
If you want to cook outside (as we did, most of the time, they give you an outside stove and best of all, a fire-pit. Perfect for cooking marshmallows. And if you want to make a campfire stew, Featherdown supplies all the kit, from a tripod and pan to the ingredients.
Feather Down Farm Layer Marney Tower Farm Things to do
Things to do Onsite
The great thing about camping is that the kids go and play with others. They find each other and run wild.
Ours spent hours building a den. Piles of dead wood leaned against a tree, to form a wigwam with an entrance too small for adults to get into. Covered by all of our coats to make it weather-proof (as they thought – we must encourage them.)
We admired it, and the next day they were in their own den, wanting to eat their breakfast, lunch and tea there…
Which leaves grown ups free to kick back and relax. Maybe read a bit with a glass of wine (wine in the honesty shop and books free to borrow).
Plus you can hire a chicken if you want – so you (with any luck) get a lovely fresh egg for your breakfast.
There is the house at Layer Marney to visit. A perfect Tudor gatehouse, with 99 steps up to the roof, where you have fantastic views right over to the sea. Built in the 1520s, it was never completed, originally it was intended to be far grander than it is. Not that it isn’t grand enough anyway. If you’re camping at Layer Marney, you get complimentary tickets to the house, as part of the deal.
And it is magnificent. Clearly a house with a lot of history, you can wander around and see both the house and the garden, plus the church which is just next door. It is certainly a perfect venue for a party or a wedding. And even a gift-shop and tea shop, perfect for a bit of a sit-down.
And of course it is fun checking out some of the animals around the farm.
Feather Down Farms Pizza Night
Every Saturday night is pizza night. The huge pizza oven is fired up a few hours before, to get good and hot. Then, at about 5.30 a cluster of people started to drift around. Everyone sitting chatting and smelling the smoke and waiting for the pizza. And then with a fanfare (not really but it seemed like it), then a whole load of pizza ingredients appear.
Our hostess laid them all out and a production line was set up. Everyone chooses their own pizza toppings and makes their own pizza, which is then handed over to be cooked, properly in the wood-fired oven. Pizza ready in 2 minutes and wolfed down, with all the appetite of someone who has been playing outside all day.
I loved to the community feel of it as everyone, big and small, gathered round the communal tables, chatted, shared tips and experiences and generally had a good time.
Things to do Off-site
Then, there is the nearby country-side to explore. From going for bike rides to walks to the next village for a pub lunch.
And within about half an hour, you’ve got everything from the zoo in Colchester to Mersea island and the sea. We drove to Mersea Island, across the causeway and onto the island. And found ourselves on a bit of beach, next to a huge park, so the kids could play on the swings and then we could picnic on the beach.
Had the weather been worse, we could have headed into Colchester or Maldon, and had we felt more artistic, we could have walked Dedham Vale and Constable Country.
There is certainly no shortage of things to do and each tent comes equipped with a list of what to do, included an ordnance survey map of the area.
Feather Down Farms Glamping UK Essential Checklists
The beauty of Feather Down farms is that all the bulky necessities (tent, bedding, kitchen utensil, camping furniture etc) , that fill up your car as you leave home are already there, so you can travel light or at least use the space to bring other things that you really want to bring with you.
- Food – Just limit it to bring your families favourites and the big stuff eg burgers etc with you as the onsite Honesty shop has all the kitchen pantry basics you need eg pasta, tinned tomatoes, seasoning, milk etc
- Warm and cosy clothing – Although this is weather dependent, it is better to have extra warm clothing should you need it
- Wellies and Coats – so you can go puddle jumping, exploring the woods and go down to the sea and more.
- Bikes – this was one thing we had not thought off. But bring your bikes with you and join in the
- A nature activities book – We brought one with us and that kept the kids entertained for ages, with their treasure hunt, creating their own maps, building dens and more
- Kites – there are lovely windy spots nearby where you can fly your kites.
- Battery pack – yes you rate thee to unwind and recharge but, and yes you can charge your phone in the honesty shop or games room but if you wish to keep in touch with the outside world a little bit then it is worth bringing a battery charging pack with you.
- And no matter what you do, DONT FORGET THE MARSHMALLOWS. Best way to bond with other campsite guests.
Feather Down Farm Layer Marney Tower Farm Glamping The Package
We were guests of Feather Down Farms.
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