Page last updated at 23:46 GMT, Thursday, 7 August 2008 00:46 UK

Rapid rise of 'luxury' campsites

By Tom Warren
BBC News

Tent at Featherdown Farm
Tents at Featherdown Farms include furniture and woodburning stoves

Evidence shows that thousands more families are choosing camping holidays in Britain over expensive foreign breaks this summer.

But in our look into camping, BBC News examines the rise of more expensive "luxury" sites - including tents with log fires, beds and electricity - that have sprung up around England.

Firms are beginning to tap into a growing market for sites offering campers a range of creature comforts.

Tourism agency Enjoy England says "boutique" camping is becoming more and more popular.

A spokeswoman said: "Camping [in England] no longer equals flimsy tents and sleeping on lumps and bumps - VisitBritain now even runs a grading scheme for campsites.

What these camping experiences have done is open up the option of camping to people who don't like to get too dirty or putting their own tent up
Jonathan Knight, Cool Camping series editor

"There are five-star campsites now and more people will go there because you can plug in hair straighteners or watch TV."

Featherdown Farms offer tents with woodburners, beds, toilets and running water.

And, unlike at traditional sites, campers do not have to worry about lighting their portable gas stoves with damp matches - cooking is done in wood-fired ovens.

Originally started in Holland, its first UK site opened at Manor Farm near Alton, in Hampshire, in 2006.

But its popularity led to a rapid expansion and there are now 18 farm sites in England, one in Scotland and one in Wales.

Heated tents

Laverne Sibbick, UK manager, said each site was on a working farm where children had close access to animals.

"It's a mix between being right in the countryside, but you are also quite comfortable," she said.

Animals near Livingstone Safari Lodge
Native African animals roam the park at Livingstone Safari Lodge, in Kent

"There is a woodburner in each tent and running water."

Like Featherdown, more sites are beginning to offer an "experience" for their guests

Livingstone Safari Lodge, in Port Lympne, Kent, promises an "authentic African" theme.

Its heated tents also have electricity and real beds.

Animals such as giraffes and zebras roam the park outside the tent and campers can also see gorillas, leopards and elephants.

Spokeswoman Tricia Corkhill said guests were even given packs of toiletries on arrival.

Jonathan Knight, editor of the Cool Camping series of guidebooks, believes there is a new breed of campers taking advantage of these luxury sites.

"You've got these places that either have pre-erected tents with everything in them that you need, and perhaps they even provide a food hamper as well," he said.

"I think it's perhaps people [visiting luxury sites] that may have turned their noses up at camping a few years ago, because they perceived it to be a bit basic or damp and miserable.

Jonathan Knight
Jonathan Knight says camping holidays are no longer just seen as "basic"

"But what these camping experiences have done is open up the option of camping to people who don't like to get too dirty or putting their own tent up."

Mr Knight said much of the growth in upmarket campsites was down to enterprising farmers.

"I think a lot of farmers are moving into tourism and they are finding it quite a successful way of diversifying."

He said sites such as the Featherdown Farms offered accommodation which was essentially "canvas holiday homes" rather than tents.

But he added luxury camping was not to everyone's tastes.

"Some people like things basic, but on the other hand some families need all the kit."

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