A la ferme
Discover a different way to camp
To some, a camping holiday means spending a week on a campsite with all modern amenities, perhaps even renting a wooden cabin rather than sleeping under canvas. These sites are great for families with young children to entertain, or for those who don’t own all the necessary equipment but still want to enjoy a few days in a casual open air environment.
At the other end of the scale there is the trend for 'wild camping' – where the only facilities are those you carry yourself, and you can get as far away from the madding crowd as you wish.
But what if you want something in between – a quiet corner of countryside where there may be only a couple of other tents or camper vans, a few simple amenities and a laid back atmosphere. This is where camping 'à la ferme' comes in, and we have enjoyed several such nights.
Travelling as two adults and a well-behaved dog, we're not looking for organised entertainment and swimming pools; in fact some of our favourite overnight stays have felt like being in the middle of nowhere, but with running water and perhaps someone else to do the cooking! Rural diversification at its best, these sites are often working farms or small rural businesses, sharing wonderful locations with sympathetic guests.
Don’t expect organised plots, maintained pathways and lighting at night; do expect a unique experience and a taste of local life. Here are some illustrations, at home and abroad, to give you an idea of what you might find on the farm.
Breaks Fold Farm, West End, Yorkshire
On a traditional hill farm beside Thruscross reservoir, within easy reach of the Dales, Skipton and Harrogate. The site is approached through the classic Yorkshire landscape of the Washburn Valley, and you can choose to pitch your tent anywhere on two adjoining fields. There is a lovely walk under the trees beside the reservoir, and on your return you can sit beside your own camp fire and toast marshmallows – Rob can supply the fire pit, fuel, skewers and marshmallows.
Two camping fields with toilet block, showers and pot wash area. Snacks and cold drinks from a vending machine. Shared fridge and freezer. Separate hard-standing for up to four mobile homes, and a charming B&B room in the old peat store. Great for getting away from it all as there is no mobile reception in the camping fields!
Les Taupinières, Notre Dame du Trouchet, Basse Normandie, France
A charming site at the end of a farm track, with a neighbouring farmer willing to sell you a bottle of his very locally made calvados. Kev and Bel offer a warm welcome beside their Normandy home, with sensitively restored outbuildings providing toilets, washing facilities (including a washing machine) and, even better, electric hook-up and wi-fi.
The peaceful site is limited to six pitches so everyone has room to stretch out and enjoy their own space. A good spot for dogs, down a quiet lane with no through traffic, and surrounded by lovely countryside for cycling and walking.
Spectacularly located below a Pyrenean escarpment, this small country restaurant has a field where you can spend the night. Get your tent or van set up, and head up to the terrace for a cold beer and maybe a meal of local food. This was one of Lola's favourite sites, with a couple of fields to run in and very interesting hedges. We hope to return and stay longer to explore the area, walk up the hill to the monastery, and enjoy the surrounding countryside.
Level site with some good shade and amazing views. Clean modern loos and showers below the restaurant.
How to find these spots
Ask other campers... it is a friendly community, and most people will be happy to trade tips and recommend sites that they have enjoyed staying at.
Try searching for "camping a la ferme", or "farm camping", though some results are for larger sites or are very geared towards family holidays.
www.park4night.com – you can download their app which also recommends daytime stopping places and wild camping opportunities across Europe and beyond.
coolcamping.com – lists 35 sites around England, Scotland and Wales