Updated: Nov 10, 2020
A three night tour of three 'nearly wild' campsites in the South East of England and what to explore on the way!
On a (kind of) sunny weekend in August, we tore ourselves away from our desks and toolboxes and decided to explore some of our neighbouring counties wilder campsites. Our current task of putting together a database of 'LandyCamper friendly' campsites within a few hours of our HQ (keep an eye out for more details soon!) gave us the perfect excuse to jump in Waffle, our Defender 90, and make the short but delightful journey East!
Our first campsite was Cuckoo Fen, near Over in Cambridgeshire, only an hours drive north of LandyCampers HQ. A three acre pasture without defined pitches means you can set up where-ever you like, within reason, surrounded by a small copse of native trees teeming with wildlife!
The site ticked all the right boxes for 'eco camping', with a really nicely thought through low-impact set up with showers, loos, washing up facilities, and nothing unnecessary. There's no electricity here, save for a few bulbs for the loos at night, so lucky that LandyCampers provides EcoFlow's powerstation & solar panels!
Cuckoo Fen is one of a number of 'pop-up' campsites that emerge on working farms and small-holdings each year. This summer, due to Covid-19 and a higher demand, more farmers made plots of their land temporarily available to campers for the first time – some with full facilities, others with more basic setups. It's a real treat to pitch up in these secluded and unspoilt corners of the English countryside - often with horses, sheep or some geese as your neighbour. The campsite is located right on the edge of the RSBP Ouse Fen Reserve, one of the biggest reedbed reserves in the country, which makes for a great walk after the tent is pitched. We can't wait for next summer and hope Cuckoo Fen will be open to campers again!
Wicken Fen Nature Reserve
After our first delightfully quiet, and delightfully dark (nightscape photographers rejoice!), night at Cuckoo Fen, we set out to explore another Reserve – the nearby Wicken Fen National Trust Nature Reserve. The Fen is the oldest of the National Trust's Nature Reserves, having been under their stewardship since 1899! The site itself however dates back much farther than that, with the original Lodes (raised waterways) considered by some experts to be of Roman origin (really, is there anything round here they didn't build?!), falling into disrepair in the Medieval Period (like most things). In the 17th century a pioneering group called The Adventurers drained the surrounding Fens once again to become the characteristic Cambridgeshire grazing grounds, but left Wicken Fen flooded, being used for peat and sedge harvesting. By the 1890s, both peat and sedge harvesting fell from favour, and the site was donated to the National Trust.
Wicken Fen is one of Europe's most important wetlands, and a haven for wildlife lovers. The reserve boasts more than 9000 species, including a dizzying array of plants, birds and dragonflies. Several different walks offer a variety of sites to take in, with marshland, sedge banks, windmills, and several bird watching hides; easily a few hours worth in nice weather!
The raised boardwalk and lush grass droves allow easy access to a lost landscape of flowering meadows, sedge and reedbeds, where you can encounter rarities such as hen harriers, water voles and bitterns.
Our second stop was Mayfields Farm, situated near Reepham in North Norfolk, a lovely small traditional grassland farm. We are greeted first by geese, patrolling the entrance (they deemed the Landy worthy and let us pass!), then fields of ponies and goats.
"Hi, welcome to Mayfield's Farm!"
Beyond that were three pretty huge, well kept, grassy pitching sites, each with its own loo and shower hut. We shared our several-hundred-meter plot with one other camper in his tent, social distancing was pretty easy! Even had it been full, the pitches were amply spread out, no need to cram your tent up against your car here!
Seriously, look how much space we had!
The hedgerow gave good shelter from the wind that blew across the neighbouring fields, and there wasn't a sound, save for the occasional goat-scream (seriously, goats sound weird as hell!). Mayfield's farm is open for campers all year round and with compost toilets, access to mains water and cold showers, you are not going to want for anything. Once you have pitched-up, chill, take a quiet walk along the popular Marriots Way, or watch the tenant farmer Sarah train the sheepdogs!
The campsite is an animal lovers' dream, and only a stone's throw from the Norfolk Broads and the North Norfolk coast, which is perfect for a day trip or two. Hiking, canoeing, sailing, bird-watching and more are all easily done in the area, and absolutely recommended!
Blakeney & Weybourne Beach
After a peaceful morning and reluctantly saying goodbye to the goats and horses, we were drawn to the coast. Our first stop is the pretty coastal village of Blakeney and its National Nature Reserve. Located at the heart of the Norfolk Coast AONB, the Reserve boasts wide open spaces and uninterrupted views of the beautiful North Norfolk coastline. The four mile long shingle spit of Blakeney Point offers protection for Blakeney Harbour and the surrounding saltmarshes, providing a perfect habitat for the vast array of residential and migratory wildlife. It's also home to some of the UK's biggest grey and common seal colonies. Check out the ferry times from Morston Quay to enjoy good views of the seals without disturbing them.
Big Sky country
We headed on through the picturesque village of Cley-next-the-Sea along the coast to Weybourne beach. The deep waters and steeply shelving pebble beach was said to once be the haunt of smugglers as it was easy to land large boats full of contraband here. These days you are more likely to see fishermen scattered around and paragliders making use of the stunning cliffs that runs along the coast for miles.
"Sit there and look out to sea, it'll look good, trust me."
Miles of shingle beach and imposing cliffs, and barely a person in sight!
After fuelling up on some salty sea air. our last stop took us back inland, to the Spring Farm campsite near Dereham. Spring Farm is a lovely little campsite with a fishing pond, super friendly owners and, due to Covid, a reduced number of only 5 pitches, which gives you ample space.
The facilities at Spring Farm are really great, with eco-friendly loos, showers, washing facilities, electrical hookups, and proper recycling (which is still a rarity on campsites!) Fire pits are available free of charge, and log bags can be bought on site cheaply. It's a small but nicely run site, located in the heart of the Norfolk countryside half-way between the coast and our HQ and thus perfect for a last stop-over.
The next day we went on one final walk on our three day tour; Thetford Forest. Established after the First World War to replenish timber stocks dwindling after the wars demands, it is the largest lowland pine forest in Britain, covering more than 19,000 acres. In its early days, men and women were sent out across the country to collect pine cones and extract the seeds required for this enormous wood, which is clearly bonkers. That said, there was evidently method in the madness, as the scale of the forest proves once you arrive.
There's ample paths and walks crisscrossing the forest, and more than enough space to get lost in (seriously, a lot of these paths look alike), and it's easy enough to steer clear from any crowds here. The flora varies from wilder, natural forest to managed monoculture, which makes for an occasionally jarring walk (we don't often see thousands of perfectly aligned rows of pine, its quite stunning!).
Certain trails of the forest are designated byways, and while pretty rutted and bumpy in places, make for a great proving ground for a Landy! Most areas are wide enough for two vehicles to pass, and overhanging branches seem well trimmed, so it's an easy enough drive, and quite a stunning location, thudding along among rows of absolutely huge old pine trees.
With three nights out and about and all of our days spent outside in completely different environments from marshland to the coast to the forest, we happily made our way back home. For now, as it would not take long until we were plotting our next trip to explore more of the diverse landscapes of the East of England!