Thursday, June 5, 2014

Camping in the Cotswolds: Thistledown bliss

Trip summary:

Cost: £25-£50 (not including fuel and food)
Time: Recommend 2 nights minimum
Distance: About 30 miles north of Bristol
Start/end point: Thistledown farm, Tinkley Lane, Nympsfield, Stroud, GL10 3UH
Equipment: Camping gear (see detailed list below)
Bring: Activities for kids and food
Special notes: We have a two night minimum policy on camping where possible because it gives you one day where you are neither having to set up or pack up camp - essential for true relaxation. 

The joys of crèching

There are many examples across the animal kingdom where one or two adults within a social group will care for the young of others as well as their own. This is known as crèching. It's common among many birds, including the Canada goose, Brandt's cormorant and common eider, as well as social mammals such as lions and, of course, our own species.

Thistledown Farm camping
Our ring of tents in 3rd pasture at Thistledown.
We have a group of friends that gathers each year at Thistledown Farm, near Stroud, and it is an idyllic setting for letting children run free and allowing adults to tap into their inner child. Although group camping is definitely not a quiet family trip, there are lots of incredible benefits to having the numbers. First and foremost, there are lots of children and that generally means they are very good at entertaining themselves. If you have a few responsible older ones in there...even better.

With our tents set up in a circle, we created a safe space where the kids could play in the middle without disturbing other campers. The network of guylines from the tents formed a bit of a fence, tripping children as they attempted to escape the circle - an unintended but useful consequence as it at least slowed them down as they ran for the woods and ponds!

Piglets, rolling hills, a pond and wild garlic galore

Thistledown is a family managed, organically run 70-acre farm and the owners are really lovely and extremely conscientious about their environment and making sure all their campers have a good experience. This is our third consecutive year of coming to Thistledown and we have enjoyed watching its transformation over the years.

Wheelbarrows are available to carry gear down to the car-
free campsites. However, the biggest challenge is
getting the children to relinquish them afterwards.
Two of the three camping areas are car free, which has been a big selling point for us. There are wheelbarrows at the parking lot to help you get your gear down, but if you can't be bothered then the staff will take it down for you in one of their vehicles for £5. We have always gone the wheelbarrow route, partly because we're cheap but mostly because it's fun. Morgan gets in the wheelbarrow usually and it simply becomes part of the adventure - though I noticed it was a lot harder going back up the hill with him in the wheelbarrow than it was three years ago!

Night scene at Thistledown
With camp set up and the kids nestled into the tents, it's a
special time for the adults to gather around the fire, half a drink,
share some laughs, or just enjoy the peace and quiet.
We've always stayed in 3rd pasture near the giant wooden mushroom. It has become 'our spot'. We find its got perfect access to pretty much everything. The pigs (and piglets if you're there in spring) are just along the path as you walk from the parking lot, there's access to the showers and toilets and just down the hill is a little pond and creek, woodlands filled with bluebells and wild garlic, and a swing hanging from an old tree. Really, what more could you need?

Just half an hour out of the north end of Bristol, we go up Friday night and by 6pm the tents are set up, the children are fed and people are starting to contribute some rather gourmet looking dishes to the picnic table for the adult feast. The day's work is forgotten and it's time to sit back, have a drink and catch up with friends while the kids run around and roll down the gentle slopes. Perfection.

Activities for the kids when camping

We find that at Thistledown, there's lots to do without any additional forethought or equipment. Here's just a few that we've found:
  • There are some classic tree swings around the property for the kids to enjoy - always popular
  • The pigs and sheep are always good entertainment
  • The pond up near the reception area has newts and frogs and dragonflies and is definitely worth exploring
  • There is a Roman trough that empties into a woodland pond at the bottom of 3rd pasture and if the kids could just live here, they would. This is where crèching is ideal as the kids will spend hours in here and the adults can just take turns supervising.
    Outdoor fun for families.
    Morgan playing with his friends Tomas and Sofia in the
    trough that runs into the pond near 3rd pasture. 
  • There are all sorts of walks around the property and you can get a map when you check-in. We've been on many of these, including a longer walk that connected with the National Trust's Woodchester Park property, where there was ice-cream and tea and cakes as an excellent incentive for tired little legs.
  • Dusk and evening walks have allowed us to see badgers and bats on the property and this year we were privileged to be camped beside a tree with two owl fledglings - still downy.
With a little more forethought and equipment we have incorporated some of these activities for the kids over the years:
  • Geocaching/treasure hunt around the property
  • Frisbee, football, rounders, cricket
  • Parachute games
  • Kite flying
  • Wheelbarrow races
  • Boules
    Sofia among the wild garlic in the woodlands around
    Thistledown farm.
We've also gone into the Stroud Farmer's market on Saturday morning each year. It's a fabulous little market, usually with some live music and we always grab lunch when we're there. I can't recommend Streetmed falafel bar enough - I grabbed lunch there the first year and I haven't gone anywhere else for fear that anything else might be a disappointment.

Our camping list:

We keep a list, as it just makes it easier to check it off before we walk out the door. This is ours...modify as necessary:
  • tent
  • mallet
  • air mattress (& pump) or thermarests
  • sleeping bags and pillows
  • tarp
  • cook stove and gas
  • matches and newspaper
  • torch/headlamps
  • first aid kit
  • kitchen kit (we keep this box packed at all times) includes: pots, dishes, cutlery, washing up liquid, tea towels, sponge, glasses, mugs, bamboo sticks (for marshmallows or kebabs)
  • cooler
  • towels
  • toys: parachute, balls, frisbees, kites, boules
  • water bottles
  • camp chairs
  • ropes
  • spare car key
  • hats and sun cream


Generally aim for the windmill on Tinkley Lane...but for far better (and more specific) directions, visit Thistledown's very comprehensive website.

Trip highlights: 

The highlight for me this year was tracking down the sounds of the owl fledglings to a nearby tree and catching a glimpse of them with their round fuzzy bodies and beautiful big eyes. 

What we'd do better next time: 

Honestly, after our third year I think we have it down to a science. We love the place, we love the people and we hope it becomes a long standing tradition. I can't wait to see what changes have taken place at Thistledown next year and hopefully I'll have the opportunity to enjoy a pizza out of their new clay oven (something I've always wanted in my garden).

Additional photos:

Morgan walking the trail from the car park to 3rd pasture.
Morgan and Sofia exploring near the pond - looking for
aquatic invertebrates.

Shelby and Morgan spotting newts in the pond near reception.

Piglets near the car park for 3rd pasture. Too cute for words!

No comments:

Post a Comment