Where To Camp (Away From The Crowds) In The South West
Thinking of camping and heading to the south west this summer? Our south west resident expert, Christabel Lear, runs through her favourite five places to camp in Dorset, Devon and Cornwall - and away from the crowds. We won't tell them if you won't.
Fri 5 Jun 2020
After months of staying at home, the government’s recent announcement that campsites can open again from 4th July is an exciting prospect.
Yet, with everyone expected to up sticks and head into the countryside for a well-deserved break, knowing how to get off the beaten track and into the remoter parts of the UK will be all-important this summer.
From secluded beaches along the Jurassic Coast – Britain’s only natural World Heritage Site – down to the tip of Land’s End, these five secret spots in Areas of Natural Beauty in the south west will give you all the space you need to feel free in nature.
1. Golden Cap Estate, West Dorset
The historic seaside towns of Charmouth and Lyme Regis are world-renowned for the rich seams of fossils that appear on their beaches after stormy weather, making them a mecca for families and amateur geologists during the summer holidays. Yet, despite their popularity, it is possible to find peace and quiet in the ancient country lanes, holloways and coastal routes which are carved into the rolling Dorset landscape surrounding these neighbouring towns.
From Lyme Regis, it is possible to connect onto the South West Coast Path, leading all the way to Sidmouth. However, to avoid jostling people along this popular footpath, head to the Golden Cap Estate, on the cliffs above Charmouth, where you will find 25 miles of interweaving paths along the estate’s headland to explore.
Take the narrow slip road out of Charmouth which leads up to Stonebarrow Hill’s National Trust carpark on the Golden Cap estate, overlooking Lyme Bay and the Golden Cap. There is no set route to take, but if you aim for the unmistakable ochre-hued peak of Golden Cap – which at 627ft is the highest point on the south coast – you will be rewarded with spectacular sea views reaching all the way from Portland Bill in Dorset to the east, to Start Point in Devon to the west. Along the way, you may be lucky enough to come across the rickety wooden steps that lead steeply down to the secluded beach of St Gabriel’s Mouth.
Camping: Overlooking the sea and nestled in wild flower-filled hay meadows, the National Trust’s St Gabriel’s campsite is an idyllic place to pitch up. It is set to re-open from 30th June, and all profits are funnelled back into the National Trust’s conversation projects.
2. Weston Mouth, East Devon
Only accessible by foot or by boat, Weston Mouth is a secluded beach, sheltered in the curve of the Jurassic coastline.
To reach the beach, you can park at Lower Weston carpark and walk for approximately one mile down through tunnels of trees and sloping meadows, all the while keeping the promising triangle of dazzling blue sea between the cliffs as your target.
Down on the pebbles, it is so quiet and protected by the steeply sloping cliffs covered in wild undergrowth that it has become popular with naturists who enjoy the far end of the beach.
From here, you can head east back up the cliffs along the South West Coast Path leading to the picturesque village of Branscombe; home to a restored mill, a 16th-century forge and two historic pubs.
Where to stay: Branscombe’s Sea Shanty Holiday lodges, are tucked into the cliffs overlooking Branscombe Beach, meaning you have the sea right on your doorstep. The Shanties are hoping to open by 4th July.
3. Stoke Gabriel to Sharpham Estate, South Devon
The thriving town of Totnes, on the banks of the River Dart, is well-known for its eco-credentials and as a hub of independent shops, including one the UK’s zero-waste shops. A little further down the River Dart is the quieter village of Stoke Gabriel, where you can rent a kayak and set off from the creek out onto the River Dart, heading west back towards Totnes.
After paddling for about one hour upstream, flanked on both sides by fields and forests, you will spot Sharpham House perched on top of the hill on the left bank as you approach a sweeping bend in the river. Hug the left side of the bank as it curves around again, and you will reach a mooring deck for your kayak at the foot of the estate. Here you can stow your kayak and explore Sharpham Estate’s grounds and vineyards, which thrive in the valley’s microclimate.
Sharpham also features an al fresco restaurant offering the estate’s award-winning wine and cheeses, as well as seasonal menus. The Sharpham Trust runs the Grade 1-listed Sharpham House, where you can pre-book retreats which are aimed at connecting people with both nature and themselves, helping to inspire a more compassionate and environmentally aware mindset.
Where to stay: The Sharpham Trust runs a campsite in Point Field, where tents sit a few metres from the river. For exceptional accommodation, the Sharpham Estate also features The Bathing House – an 18th-century boat-house hanging over the River Dart.
4. Pedn Vounder, Cornwall
Close to Land’s End, at the tip of Cornwall, is a beach that could easily be mistaken for a Maldivian paradise on hot a day. The beach, which is only accessible by boat or by scrabbling down the cliffside, is well worth the tricky journey. At low-tide, warm, shallow lagoons form in the pale sands, or you can go swimming out in the surf.
Further along the coast, you can walk to the world-famous Minack Theatre – an open-air stone amphitheatre that overlooks the Atlantic Ocean, and which draws theatre troupes from around the world who come to perform against this elemental backdrop.
Where to stay: At Treen Farm campsite you will be perfectly positioned on the headland overlooking the ocean to reach Pedn Vounder beach.
Bring your own tent or rent a beautiful white bell tent and join in morning meditation practices to get the day off to a peaceful start. The campsite isn’t currently taking any bookings before mid-July, but keep an eye on their Facebook and website for updates.
5. Crackington Haven, Cornwall
As craggy and secluded as its name would suggest, the village of How can be found in a quiet cove along the north coast of Cornwall.
Hemmed in by Pencannow Point to the north and the undulating headland of Cambeak to the south, the cliffs at Crackington Haven are some of the highest on the north coast of Cornwall, rising to 700ft out of the choppy waters – making it a challenging and exhilarating walk to embark on from the surf town of Bude.
From the beach at Crackington, you can clearly see examples of folded strata in the sheer cliffs made up of sandstone and grey shales, making it a notable site for geologists.
Where to stay: The award-winning Cerentity eco-campsite is set within a long-grass field set back about a mile away from Bude’s Summerleaze beach. With its sea views, solar-powered showers, compost toilets, a communal campfire, a ‘help yourself’ vegetable patch and a handful of rescued animals, this is the perfect back-to-nature escape.