Sandy Balls New Forest Camping has been owned by the Westlake family for more 95 years. In 1916, Ernest Westlake, a naturalist of Quaker upbringing set up an alternative youth initiative to the Scout Movement, The Order of Woodcraft Chivalry.Three years later, he purchased Sandy Balls and worked with his son Aubrey to create a woodland camp-site and education centre where people could develop wood craft skills, self-sufficiency, carpentry, agricultural techniques and house building.
By 1935 Aubrey had begun to develop the family holiday side of a business which now welcomes thousands of guests annually to its luxurious log cabins, static caravan holiday homes, tents and the new addition for 2014, camping wooden pods.On site, at Woodling Point, by the escarpment over looking the natural beauty of the Avon Valley, there is poignant reminder of Ernest’s life, there he rests, among few simple white graves, with the stunning natural backdrop of woodlands.
It’s close by that secluded and peaceful corner of the camp that we found the Hazelnut Hide-Away in a cloister of cabins.
We hadn’t camped since the stormy night of the infamous incident in the Alps, where our tiny flimsy tent did an Italian job, disappearing downhill, carried away by the over-swollen stream, leaving us behind with very little clothing and an ancient 2CV.
It’s therefore with considerable relief that we unlocked the wooden door of a solid looking pine-cladded building. Camping with a microwave and all mod-cons may not be fitting the ‘roughing it’ conventions but the lodges are extremely cosy and allow people to enjoy the woods all year round.
Tall trees species such as old oaks and pines give a very special quality to the forest canopy. This national park couldn’t have been much further away from the busy London street. However, it was very near our comfort zone. In a mutual silent understanding, we bluntly ignored the BBQ set on the small lawn and yes …..we used the microwave.
The camp-site is well equipped with sports facilities, a small supermarket sporting local products, pub and a bistro-restaurant-com-pizzeria tended by very friendly staff. Wi-fi is available on the ‘piazza’ which is never further than 5 minutes walk away from any type of accommodations.
Savouring the outdoors
Autumn brings rustic walks through the forest. There is still time to join the New Forest Walking Festival and when this will have ended, a whole set of enjoyable outdoors activities is organised by the local Tourism Office.
On day 2, we hired a bike from the on site cycling shop. With more than 100 miles of cycle routes, it was easy to pick an itinerary. Armed with a detailed map, we set off to explore the Abbots Wells ride on the northern edge of the New Forest.
A round trip meandering through picture-perfect thatch cottages villages with New Forest ponies on heathland, country pubs and of course for the Abbots Well. The disused well was a watering hole as far back as the early 14th century. From the public car park there are amazing views across the national park.
By Monday, we were reconciled with camping, we might not pitch a tent soon but the breath and quality of accommodation had shown us not to dismiss camp-sites outright. Sandy Balls is less ordinary than expected, its edge and attention to conservation issues are profoundly grounded and transpire through.
The New Forest is stunningly beautiful. It may not attract as much publicity as other national parks but it is a very special place indeed.
All images (c) Solange Berchemin
Staying in Sandy Balls
Low/mid/high season + mid week and WE (3 nights) cabins from £219 to £1019
En-suite sleep 6 from £219 to £1019 pitch for tents from £10 to £45
Sandy Balls New Forest Camping offers a range of accommodation to suit all budgets and needs, for more information visit www.sandyballs.co.uk or call t: 01425 651210