Winning tip: Isle of Arran, North Ayrshire
A train journey to Ardrossan from Glasgow, a 50-minute ferry across to Brodick, Isle of Arran, and a short but beautiful bus ride will bring you to the gate of Seal Shore campsite, Kildonan, on the extreme south of the island. It’s a truly magical location, looking across to the islet of Pladda and the Ayrshire coast. Expect to see seals and otters from your tent. Great pub serving food next to site. The circular island bus stops at the campsite gate, making it easy to explore the rest of this stunning place.
• Tent from £9 plus adult £7, camping pods from £40, campingarran.com
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St Martin’s, Isles of Scilly
Nestled behind an idyllic empty white beach is St Martin’s Campsite. With giant night skies, friendly birdsong and glorious untouched beaches wherever you turn, the island is paradise. The journey is part of the fun. Train to Penzance, then a stroll to the harbour, from where the ferry takes you past west Cornwall’s incredible coastline. Twenty-eight miles later you dock in St Mary’s, where you change to a smaller boat that sails to tiny St Martin’s.
• £12.50pp in July and August, stmartinscampsite.co.uk
Sark, Channel Islands
Accessible by a small ferry is the beautiful La Valette campsite on Sark (which is not actually in the UK but certainly part of Europe: ed). No cars are allowed on the island, so it’s geared towards those on foot. The campsite is basic – a field with incredible views over the sea and a shower block and two washrooms. Everyone is very helpful – on arrival, bags are taken off the ferry and delivered to the campsite by tractor. During the day visitors come and go by ferry, and bikes (or horse and carts) can be hired to explore secret plunge pools, bays and cafes. But, once the last day-trippers leave, the island is at its most peaceful – the best time for your evening swim in Grève de la Ville Bay.
• £10 adult, £5 child,sark.co.uk
Great Langdale, Lake District
The 516 bus between Kendal and Windermere passes the Great Langdale campsite at the foot of the Langdale Pikes. Or you can hike over from Grasmere (a joy in itself), then up the valley to the campsite. There are a multitude of walks from there, enough for a week or more. The campsite has a shop and showers, and a pub is nearby.
• Tent from £16 in August including one adult, additional adult £6, child £3, nationaltrust.org.uk
All the campsites along Pembrokeshire coastal path are fabulous, but we particularly loved Trefalen Farm overlooking Broadhaven South beach. Jump over the stile and you’re at the top of the stairs to the beach, with a chance to grab a delicious snack from the Slow Pig van or a coffee at the kiosk. Here you’ll find a bus stop. The Pembrokeshire bus service is frequent and reliable, linking to bigger hubs in Milford Haven and Pembroke, and buses have delightful names like the Puffin Shuttle.
• One man tent from £5 plus adult £6, child £4, ukcampsite.co.uk
Burnham Deepdale, Norfolk
The coast bus 36 from King’s Lynn or Wells will take you to Deepdale Farm camping (every 30mins in summer and every hour in winter), and you can use it to explore the gorgeous Norfolk coast. Lots of facilities and a quiet site (no noise after 10pm) makes it perfect for families or those looking for a peaceful retreat. Big Norfolk skies mean amazing stargazing opportunities at night. Lots of different pitch options from basic up, and there’s a backpackers’ hostel if you prefer a roof.
• Standard tent for up to five people from £17 a night in August, dorm bed from £21, deepdalebackpackers.co.uk
Hop on the train to Penzance, then bus it to Treen (a 20-minute ride). Treen campsite sits atop the cliff edge with sea views and coastal path leading to the best beach in the world (in my humble opinion). Pedn Vounder beach (clothes optional) is a bit of a scramble to reach, but worth it. Just make sure you arrive early to camp. Logan Rock Inn in Treen village pulls a great pint of Tribute with filling pub grub. Opposite is a farm dispensing unpasteurised fresh milk in the morning (with reusable glass bottles). There’s even a cottage selling freshly baked bread. It’s camping heaven.
• Small tent £3pn + adult £8pn, treenfarmcampsite.com
New Forest, Hampshire
Ashurst Campsite, run by the forestry commission in the New Forest, is close to a railway station (Ashhurst New Forest on the Waterloo to Poole route) and a lovely big country pub (The New Forest), with a view across a wide open field, which you walk across to reach this sparkling-clean campsite among the trees. The field is often full of wild horses – also a big part of the camping experience. Gorgeous New Forest countryside trails in three directions direct from the site, and a supermarket is 15 minutes’ walk away. You can even hire out a BBQ, so no need to carry one.
• Tent for two £31 in August, campingintheforest.co.uk
South Downs, East Sussex
Housedean Farm near Falmer couldn’t be much easier to get to. A train to Lewes, Falmer or Brighton, then the 28 bus to the doorstep – it even has its own stop. At the height of summer the view from the site is of rolling slopes in earthy greens and yellows. Pitches are spacious and each has a fire pit. The site has a modern kitchen and high-quality timber showers with constant hot water. Best of all is its commitment to inclusivity – it says everyone is welcome and this, we found, creates a respectful environment. The location is a great base from which to explore the South Downs national park (the site is on the South Downs Way).
The Glenmore campsite sits on the sandy banks of the beautiful Loch Morlich. It’s a 10-minute hop on the 31 bus from Aviemore and its well-connected rail station. Nearby are Cairn Gorm (the UK’s sixth-highest peak), the beautiful Rothiemurchus estates and lochs galore. It also has the best tiny pub ever, the Pine Marten.
• Tent for two from £25pn in August, campingintheforest.co.uk
Join a stately railway line from Ajaccio to get to Calvi. The trains may be recent, but this is a metre-gauge line built in the late 19th century. With stunning views the slow trip must be seen as a holiday experience rather than a means of travelling from A to B. Approaching Calvi the train stops at a beach halt 25 minutes along the boardwalk from the town itself, but just a few hundred metres from Camping La Pinède. We stayed in a simple two-person Roulotte caravan. Wave the train down from the platform for the return.
• Tent for two €33.80, camping-calvi.com
Near Chamonix, France
Camping de la Mer de Glace could be the most breathtaking campsite in the world. Wake up to a sunrise-pink Mont Blanc and fall asleep to the rushing glacial water of Arveyron river. The site is a short walk to cable cars to take you on Alpine hikes. Accessible by Eurostar then SNCF trains to Chamonix. Take a local bus to stop Les Vardesses, a 300-metre walk from the site.
• High season pitch €11.10 plus €10.20pp, chamonix-camping.com
Lake Annecy, France
Camping La Ravoire is an absolute gem of a site on the shores of Lake Annecy, and well worth the effort by boat to reach. Catch your ride in Annecy from near the Jardins de l’Europe and jump off an hour later at Doussard, the most southerly point of the lake. It’s a wonderful 15-minute walk to the site from the jetty. Alternatively, get the hourly 51 bus, which passes the site just before reaching Doussard. We had a fantastic time at La Ravoire with its kid-friendly swimming pools, shady pitches, mountain views and fresh croissants.
• Tent for two in August from €30, campinglaravoire.com
The narrow gauge Feve railway line winds along the top of northern Spain, from Bilbao in the east to Ferrol in Galicia. With its slow speed and frequent stops, it’s much the best way to see the Cantabrian coast. A 20-minute walk from Barcia station is Camping Los Cantiles, a clifftop campsite with plenty of facilities and spectacular views down to its beach, over the fishing port of Luarca, and inland to the Asturian highlands. Luarca has great restaurants with seafood straight off the trawlers.
• Tent and two people from €13.70, campingloscantiles.com
Near Bilbao, Spain
When my friend and I landed in the Basque Country, neither having camped since teenage years, Portuondo was a welcome delight. It’s on the Mundaka estuary, where dark-green hills fall into the sea. You can sit forever in the (decent) restaurant-bar watching the estuary change shape as the tide gives way to expansive sandbanks. Campers can also use the pool. The jewel though is down an inconspicuous path where the Portuondo’s slice of the coast lies, with beach and rockpools aplenty. Accessibility is simple via the frequent A3515 Bilbao-Bermeo bus.
• Tent for two €25, campingportuondo.com
From Piraeus get a ferry to Paros or Syros. The former has Koula Camping, a short walk from the port where you can hire tents for the night as well as bring your own. In Syros I recommend getting a bus from the port Ermoupoli to Galissas, where you’ll find Two Hearts camping, wooden tents and a great beach nearby. Both places have plenty of good-value tavernas.
Step straight from your tent and into the Libyan sea! Grammeno campsite has shady plots, a beach location, well-tended gardens, clean toilets and good-quality showers. There are plenty of good restaurants nearby and one onsite. Lively Paleochora, with its ferry connections, is a couple of miles away to the east. You can take your own tent or hire one there; there are cabins too. Accessible by bus from Chania on the north coast to Paleochora, then by bus to Kountoura (also called Agia Kyriaki).
• Tent from €4.50 plus adult €7, child €3.50, grammeno-camping.business.site
Il Poggetto in the Chianti region of Tuscany, about half an hour outside Florence, is a lovely campsite, with cabins, pitches and hook-ups for caravans, etc. It has a gorgeous big swimming pool, shop, restaurant, helpful staff and direct bus service to Florence just outside the entrance. Beautifully planted, it’s an attractive, relaxing, easy place to stay.
• Tent for two from €27, campingilpoggetto.com
Lofoten Islands, Norway
I got a mad notion to do a solo adventure to Norway. Stø, on Langøya, is one of the Lofoten Islands off the north-west coast. First I camped at Traena festival off the west coast, then up to Stø via Hurtigruten and to Stø Bobilcamp. Transport links were good, but I was the only one on the bus going as far north as Stø, so they stopped it and put me in a taxi. The ground was rock-hard, but luckily I had a technical tent. I was the only person not with a car (used for wind protection – I had to wear all my clothes) and the tent caved in during a storm. I retreated to the campsite kitchen at 4am. But it was stunning and there was an onsite sauna. The pub was also great, and the scenery and whale-watching made it worth it.
Ærø is a tiny island in the Danish archipelago. Entirely off-grid, it’s the epitome of the Danish rural idyll, all thatched houses and cobbled streets. Its rolling interior boasts ancient megaliths and serene wind turbines. Its crystalline waters are among the cleanest in Europe. Bicycle is king. To get there take a train across the islands from Copenhagen to Svendborg, then a ferry into Ærøskøbing. Then it’s a short walk to hostel Villa Blomberg, where you can camp in grass-roofed beach shelters and rent a bike (50p) and a very friendly owner. Campsite Ærøskøbing is nearby.
• Beach shelter from £7.25 for two sharing in July, bookenshelter.dk
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